Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Open Source offers more to CIOs

An edited version of this article of mine appeared in the April 2010 edition of IT Next magazine in India, in their "Moneywise" column. Please feel free to translate, rewrite and publish it in your local geo to promote the message of open source. If this gets published elsewhere, kindly send me a copy/the link.

Open Source offers more to CIOs

“Quality. Price. Service. Pick any two,” said a very succinct placard in Damodar's tailor shop. Back in the days when clothes were tailored, Damodar was one of the best in the business and he definitely knew what he was talking about.

However, in the software industry, the emergence of open source software (OSS) has turned this dynamic on its head. It is no longer about, “Pick any two,” but “Pick ALL three.”

Take quality for a start. Studies by Coverity, have found that the number of defects per thousand lines of code is lower with OSS than with proprietary software. One of the most famous sayings in the OSS community is that “Many eyes make bugs shallow.” The open, transparent, community driven development model of open source has lead to the creation of some of the most robust software systems ever built. Those who have migrated from proprietary server operating systems to open source systems will happily testify to this fact. Is it any surprise that 446 out of the top 500 supercomputers in the world run on Linux? Or that mission critical applications like telecom billing solutions, stock exchanges and others are increasingly moving to Linux and other OSS systems?

On the price front, the industry has had to deal with the forced upgrade cycles, vendor lock-in and hugely bloated software licenses imposed by proprietary software vendors. While the development model of OSS is community driven, many commercial vendors have built business models around service and support for OSS deployments. Many top-notch system integrators around the world routinely incorporate OSS in the solutions they offer to their clients. Unlike their proprietary competitors, OSS vendors do not have to incur huge development costs and this enables them to offer high quality software implementations at prices lower than proprietary software vendors. The good news for CIOs is that OSS is no longer restricted to infrastructure software categories like operating systems and middleware, but has expanded to encompass application areas like CRM, ERP, Business Intelligence, Enterprise Portals, Content Management Systems and many others.

On the service front, everything boils down to how well the software is implemented and supported. In OSS, commercial vendors usually sell their services in the form of annual subscriptions that have to be renewed. The quality of services rendered to the client determine whether subscriptions are renewed or not. This gives OSS vendors an inherent incentive to offer good quality services. Therefore, CIOs should actively consider OSS while procuring software, especially where the OSS option is mature and meets their functional requirements.

Given the recent downturn in the economy, cost has been one of the reasons for more and more CIOs to turn to OSS. However, to be moneywise, CIOs should focus on all three aspects--quality, price and service. It may be tempting to go with OSS vendors who are the cheapest, but CIOs should evaluate the quality of skills available within the vendor organization before taking a final call. As I sum up, I cannot resist quoting from another placard in Damodar's tailor shop. “I have no quarrel with competitors who charge less. They know the value of their goods and services.”