Overcoming barriers to Open Source - Tackling the business case for open source

Open source software is being seen increasingly as a viable option for CIOs seeking to drive innovation, build platforms, increase agility and cut costs in the enterprise, but barriers to adopting open source remain to IT executives seeking to put together a business case to using open source applications. [See also: 16 CIOs using open source in the enterprise]

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst recently outlined some of the biggest barriers to adopting open source he has encountered from discussions with CIOs and Chief Technology Officers, while his former Red Hat Vice President and General Manager for North America Ed Boyajian, now CEO at open source database provider EnterpriseDB, also commented on overcoming some of the barriers to adopting open source technology.

1. Open source skills

Whitehurst said that in enterprise IT terms open source is relatively new and there are not a lot of skills in the traditional IT department compared to other areas. Perhaps not a surprising view from the chief executive of the first billion-dollar company providing support and management for open source tools, CIOs speaking to this title have noted an overall lack of expertise in the area which has held them back.

In a data management environment, Boyajian said that open source database skills were a barrier but that these were easily transferable from the base knowledge in Oracle many IT experts have.

"The normal barriers are training and education, and maybe making time for those," Boyajian said. "Staff may be aware of Postgres but we need to go through a process making them understand what it is we do. Luckily the Oracle skills are highly portable to other ways of working also."

2. Contractual barriers

Boyajian said that for EnterpriseDB, which counts 87 of the Fortune 500 and 182 of the Forbes Global 2000 among its customers, they had seen in the customer market a familiarity with the legacy technology and the companies that support it which was exacerbated by the length and depth of these relationships and a certain level of comfort and security in their older systems. While these cosy relationships held back some open source systems, legal hurdles around vendor lock-in were bigger barriers than the technological hurdles of migration.

"We've built a path for technical migration, but you also need to do a contractual migration," Boyajian said. "But the real barriers to adoption from what I see is a certain amount of contractual stickiness that some of the big vendors have built in which makes it hard for them to migrate away."

3. Commercial open source business case and value

According to Whitehurst, when it comes to using free tools there is a problem selling "open source versus the the value of commercial open source".

Here lies the open source business case CIOs at large enterprises will have to sell to the CEO and CFO - justifying the relative cost of commercial open source organisations to a group who may have expected those tool by definition to not come at any cost.

4. Open source security and lifecycle management

The risk of using open source, and the perception of a lack of security in some open source tools is still a major barrier, Whitehurst says, along with the lifecycle management of open source products.

"Who is making sure there is security, patching, and the complexities around troubleshooting," he said.

However, while the security of open source products are seen as a boon rather than a hindrance, particularly brought about by its use in banking and government with the likes of the NSA's SELinux (Security-Enhanced Linux), the open source skills, security expertise and training barrier is still an issue for CIOs in this arena.

5. Open source technicality

"Open source is generally written by technical people for technical people," Whitehurst said. "This can become a bit scary for CIOs."

With CIOs and IT directors focusing increasingly less on the nuts and bolts of a technology as they look at strategy, business and value - skilling up beyond the blaggers' 'Open Source 101' could help push utilising FOSS tools from a technology project to achieving business goals.

6. Culture and change management

Acknowledging that the CIO role has shifted from manager of technology to business leader, Whitehurst said that the cultural side of adopting open source - or any new technology of system - was a major barrier for CIOs to come.

"Culture is a big thing for the CIO; the soft side is really hard," Whitehurst said about the toughest part of the CIO's involvement in major change management programmes.

Containers and DevOps driving open source

Away from overcoming barriers to adopting new technology, Whitehurst said that containers and a DevOps environment were two of the biggest drivers at the moment.

"With containers we've never seen anything like it," he said. "Virtualisation happened quickly but with containers it's just blowing up.

"And not because of operational savings, it's really being driven by developers - it starts with containers and the whole security paradigm. It makes sense that dev should be driving the bus, because they can get the value twice as fast."

CIO and C-suite leading open source shift

Boyajian said that even after 23 quarters of consecutive revenue growth at EnterpriseDB, the migration towards open source is happening fast and at a large scale towards Postgres, "which was always designed for enterprise workloads" and is driven by the needs of CIOs.

"Postgres was always built to be enterprise class and there is rapid expansion of Postgres in the enterprise database market," he said. "I genuinely believe the market needs an open source to proprietaries - it's screaming out for it."

Furthermore, Boyajian said last month that the common threads for their customers on the migration journey was the CIO recognition of the massive overspending on their proprietary database vendors and an impetus to change it, combined with the C-level drive to change the economics of IT and use money overspent on their database system to fund other strategic business and growth initiatives. Backed by an early proof of concept on open source database alternatives, in the database market it was a top-down drive rather than the bottom-up DevOps driver described by Red Hat CEO Whitehurst fuelling the shift towards open source.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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