Whether they are aware of it or not, more than 95% of IT organizations worldwide use open source software (OSS) within mission-critical IT workloads. Furthermore, interest in open source continues to grow: Gartner predicts that more than 70% of enterprises will increase their IT spending in OSS through 2025.
IT organizations leverage OSS to gain cost savings, flexibility, and innovation benefits over homegrown or third-party commercial alternatives. Yet even as OSS proliferates across enterprise environments, many CIOs, CTOs, and enterprise architecture leaders lack a comprehensive understanding of its business value and use cases.
Here are answers to some common questions that IT leaders may have about open source technology, which can be a key enabler of innovation and digital transformation efforts:
1. What is open source software?
“Open source” is a model for the development and distribution of software that provides access to source code and encourages community stewardship and support of the technology. OSS is defined by a specific license scheme, enabled by broad collaboration among developers and users via the internet, and empowered by large and diverse communities that leverage open innovation principles.
2. Why do organizations use OSS?
IT organizations worldwide use OSS across a broad set of use cases, most commonly in application development, infrastructure software, DevOps and data and analytics, including artificial intelligence (AI). Many enterprises seek out OSS directly as an alternative to traditional buy-versus-build options.
While many factors may influence an organization’s decision to use OSS, the most common reasons for doing so include:
3. What are the risks of OSS?
Despite conventional wisdom, open-source solutions are, by their nature, neither more nor less secure than proprietary third-party solutions. Instead, a combination of factors, such as license selection, developer best practices and project management rigor, establish a unique risk profile for each OSS solution.
The core risks related to open source include:
Finally, vendor lock-in can still be a risk factor, given the trend among vendors to add proprietary extensions on top of an open-source foundation (open core).
Ultimately, whether built, bought, or borrowed, software development efforts require rigorous standards and best practices for security, quality and risk management. OSS adopters must measure its risks against their own risk thresholds and usage scenarios, while considering factors such as project maturity, license suitability and availability of commercial third-party support options.
4. How should organizations evaluate OSS?
The selection of OSS isn’t dramatically different from selecting proprietary, commercial off-the-shelf software. Key criteria to evaluate include functionality, integration, and cost of ownership. One critical advantage that good OSS projects enjoy is better transparency. Unlike private proprietary solutions, the metadata supporting OSS are easily discovered and documented.
IT leaders should include the following criteria when evaluating an OSS project:
5. How can organizations use OSS most effectively?
Being successful with open source requires that IT leaders recognize its strategic importance to the business strategy, enforce policies for effective governance and communicate its value to various stakeholders.
Any open-source effort needs to be tackled on an organization-wide basis, with participation from leadership across enterprise architecture, engineering, security and risk, infrastructure and operations (I&O), and sourcing. In large enterprises, establishing an open-source program office is an effective way to govern and scale open-source efforts.
IT leaders should see open source as an inevitable investment that, with proper management, will yield considerable innovation, total cost of ownership, talent retention and business value benefits.
Arun Chandrasekaran is a Distinguished Research Vice President at Gartner, where his research's focus is on providing strategic advice to CTOs and CIOs on how to spur technology innovation within enterprise IT. Gartner analysts will discuss application innovation and software engineering strategies at the Gartner Application Innovation & Business Solutions Summit 2021 taking place virtually May 26-27 in the Americas.
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