Ten essential questions you need to ask when deciding if open source fits in with your IT strategy
CIOs wrestling with fear, uncertainty, and doubt regarding the adoption of open source are wading through the rhetoric fashioned by software pundits and marketers on both the open and proprietary sides. Issues concerning maturity, cost, reliability, support/documentation, and licensing lie at the heart of the discussion. Each of these issues bears a varying degree of weight, depending on the open source initiative in question. The Linux operating systems (server and client) and the Apache Web server, for example, have achieved an anomalous level of adoption, input, testing, and documentation - and are, therefore, not accurate bellwethers for gauging the viability of all open source initiatives.
IDC treats assessing the viability of open source within a CIO's enterprise environment, first, as an internal IT operations issue. Determining viability centres on the compatibility of in-house expertise, support, and computing environment with open source.
Second, determining the compatibility of the organisation's strategic IT direction with open source centres on the functionality-versus-cost debate. Organisations requiring little software customisation may emphasise cost savings in their IT strategies - an emphasis that is inconsistent with maintaining customised open source software throughout the organisation.
Third, once an operational and strategic fit with open source is determined, the CIO's issue becomes timing of adoption. IDC believes this decision will centre on factors external to the organisation, such as availability of outside expertise, code maturity/testing, tools availability, and services support.
Armed with a Plan
The selection criteria used to assess the viability of open source within the enterprise are somewhat similar to the criteria for selecting proprietary solutions. The following list outlines question areas with which organisations may wish to assess open source for use on the desktop and within the software stack:
- Is there adequate in-house expertise to manage open source deployment, modification, and maintenance?
- How significant may limited support be for implementation and maintenance?
- How critical is potentially limited documentation to the viability of open source on the desktop or on enterprise systems?
- Compared with proprietary solutions for given requirements, are the capabilities of open source solutions better, the same, or inadequate?
- Does the usability/functionality of an open source solution reconcile with end-user needs?
- Does or will a given open source solution align with enterprise system requirements?
- What are the near- and long-term architectural and platform implications of open source?
- Within current plans and future strategy, does a given open source solution meet IT and business needs for stability, performance, and scalability?
- What are the costs associated with accommodating, administering, maintaining, etc, open source code?
- Does the licence agreement for the use, modification, and distribution of open code align with IT/business objectives and legal concerns?
- Support availability and cost
- Code maturity and testing
- Open source project milestone timeline and evolution
- Tools availability for deployment and maintenance
- Software/hardware industry acceptance/inclusion
- System integrator support/availability
For many CIOs, "it's a confidence issue", as articulated by Graham Bird of the Open Group. Gaining this confidence will involve gauging the ability of open source solutions to reconcile with multiple considerations. Determining when the time is right to adopt open source solutions will stem, in part, from external factors, including the following:
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