Survey: Open Source is Entering the Enterprise Mainstream

Open-source solutions used to be adopted quietly by company boffins who snuck in an Apache Web server or an open-source development tool suite under the philosophy "It's easier to get forgiveness than permission" (not to mention "It's easier to do it with open-source tools than to get an IT budget").

That's no longer the case, according to a survey of IT and business executives and managers, conducted in late April 2008 by The survey, collecting data from 328 respondents, showed that more than half the respondents (53 per cent) are using open-source applications in their organization today, and an additional 10 per cent plan to do so in the next year. For nearly half, 44 per cent, open-source applications are considered equally with proprietary solutions during the acquisition process.

Among those currently employing open-source solutions, the primary uses are operating systems such as Linux (78 per cent), infrastructure applications, such as back-end databases and Web servers (74 per cent), and software development tools like Eclipse (61 per cent).

Those may sound fairly geeky, but business application use isn't far behind. Nearly half of the survey respondents, 45 per cent, are using desktop applications such as, and 29 per cent use open-source enterprise applications. The most popular of those enterprise applications are collaboration tools, customer relationship management (CRM) tools and ERP applications.

For specific discussion about open-source enterprise applications, see Is Open Source The Answer to ERP?.

Moreover, open-source solutions are generating confidence. Close to three in five respondents, 58 per cent, strongly agree or agree with the statement that Linux is reliable enough to depend upon for mission-critical applications. Remarkably, that confidence is highest among IT executives and managers: 62 per cent say Linux is ready for prime time.

Respondents to the survey ranged from IT executive or manager (59 per cent) and business executive or manager (13 per cent) to IT professionals (20 per cent) and business professionals (8 per cent).

For contrast: Three-quarters (77 per cent) of software developers responding to the last Evans Data Open Source Software/Linux Development Survey absolutely or probably have enough confidence in Linux to use it for mission-critical applications. Take that with a grain of salt: By their qualifications for participation in that market research study, those developers are tipped in favor of using or writing open source (if not Linux), so a higher ranking is not surprising.

What Makes Open Source Appealing-and Not

The primary reasons enterprise IT departments adopt open source are financial. Lower total cost of ownership (59 per cent) and acquisition costs (56 per cent) lead the pack. But money isn't everything. Greater flexibility was cited as a primary reason by 32 per cent of respondents, and access to source code is a motivation for one in three (30 per cent). Attributes of the source code itself aren't key drivers; better-quality code is a primary reason for adoption by just 12 per cent, and product functionality by 22 per cent.

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Greatest Barriers to Open-Source Software Adoption at Your Company?

While it's good news (at least to its proponents) that nearly two-thirds of companies are using open source today or plan to use it soon, there are still barriers to adoption. The primary reason is product support concerns (45 per cent); enterprises clearly want assurance that someone will answer tech support calls. Secondary issues are the awareness or knowledge of available solutions-that is, the ease of learning that an open-source application is available to scratch that particular IT itch (29 per cent), security concerns (26 per cent) and lack of support by management (22 per cent).

Again, you'll notice that the qualities of the open-source applications themselves aren't as big a deal. Software quality issues are cited as a primary barrier to adoption by 20 per cent and customization concerns by 15 per cent. So if you're trying to sell the boss on the virtues of open source, spend more time on reassurance about tech support availability and quality than you do on customization opportunities.

Companies that use (or plan to use) open source generally have the same concerns as do companies that stick with proprietary solutions. The main exception is open source's top sticking point. Half the respondents whose companies use open source today (52 per cent) cite product support concerns as the greatest barrier to entry. A third (33 per cent) of those who don't use open source identified this as a primary problem. Product support is still their top item - just with less urgency. In other words, the folks who are using this stuff know that it's a problem; those who aren't using it simply expect it to be.

One item that may quell the fears of enterprises contemplating open-source solutions: Once you have the software in-house, code quality concerns become far less important. Enterprises that aren't using open source cite code quality as the third-highest issue (after product support and security concerns), but it's number 7 (of 12) for those who have been working with the applications. Once you have your hands on the code, apparently, you discover the situation is better than you imagined.

Open-source developers have somewhat different priorities than do their managers. According to the Evans Data survey, the biggest obstacles to adoption are a corporate preference for proprietary software, lack of device drivers and the need to learn a new set of skills. The quality of support was the biggest obstacle to only 15 per cent of developers.

Making Open Source Work In-House

About a quarter of corporations (27 per cent) have a formal policy in place regarding open-source applications, though 18 per cent expect to adopt such a policy in the next 12 months. Of those with open-source policies, 45 per cent feel their policies are very effective and 46 per cent somewhat so. Presumably, the "somewhat so" respondents are thinking about the amount of open-source software that's been installed by IT staff and developers without company approval; one in five (21 per cent) admits to it (often or sometimes).

While more than half of enterprises use open source today, the degree of intimacy with the philosophy varies quite a bit. Companies may often (43 per cent) or sometimes (24 per cent) treat such applications as, well, just free software; they run the application but don't even look at the source code. Although they can access the source code, it isn't common for enterprise IT departments to use open-source modules in their own code, whether or not they make code changes. For example, 18 per cent often use unchanged code modules as though the modules are a free source library, and 36 per cent do so occasionally. Still, half, 49 per cent, often or sometimes report bugs or contribute their changes back to the open-source community; 11 per cent have open-source committers on their staff.

Once open source was rejected as appropriate for enterprise use. Clearly, that's no longer the situation today.


Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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