Guest View: Realizing the Value, Cost of Open Source
By Jim Douglas
March 1, 2008 —
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Realizing the Value, Cost of Open Source
While the open source tidal wave may have started as a grassroots, anti-establishment movement, today the use of open source in corporate IT and as a basis for commercial products has become so commonplace that it’s almost impossible to imagine the world without it. Ironically, what was created out of the desire to free individuals from the handcuffs of big business has now been embraced by those very businesses because of the enticement of lowering costs, speeding time to market, and leveraging work produced by an army of developers that aren’t on their payroll.
From a corporate standpoint there are several other major benefits to using open source:
• a continuous innovation pipeline with capacity beyond that of internal development teams,
• the opportunity to focus internal resources on developing differentiating technology,
• flexibility associated with openly licensed solutions instead of suffering from single vendor lock-in, and
• compatibility and interoperability with other products built on top of a common open-source framework.
Most people would agree there is real business value that can be gained from open source. The precise value frequently is not—or cannot—be quantified, but we generally accept the fact that by using open source capital expenses can be reduced. But capital expenses are only one facet in the TCO and ROI equations.
Open Source Doesn’t Equal ‘Free’
With the increased adoption of open source in areas such as IT infrastructure (like Linux, Apache, MySQL), enterprise applications (Compiere, SugarCRM, Asterisk, Medsphere), and development tools (Eclipse, NetBeans), to name a few, one thing has become increasingly clear—the advantages identified above don’t come without a price.
Open source doesn’t equal “free.” Sometimes, savings in capital expenses can be more than offset by increases in operating expenses. Given that developers are leveraging technology from disparate sources, there is frequently an inherent cost to integrate, deploy and maintain both the applications built using open-source components, and the open-source tools themselves. Those costs may be hard to calculate, however, because those costs are largely labor of employees, instead of checks cut to software companies.