Time to Stop Asking if Open Source is an Option
By Randy Terbush on March 23, 2017
I want to take some time today to talk about the state of the software industry and specifically about open source. I’ve read a lot of F.U.D. lately, coming from various commercial software vendors, warning customers about the potential risks of using open source software in their businesses. This is a very old argument that suggests to me that the vendor has no advantage to offer in their solution, over open source alternatives. If you don’t take time to read the rest of this article, let me make one point before you go…
TL;DR: Anyone focusing on the "risks" of open source software is spreading F.U.D.
If you take nothing else away from this article, know that there is a world of other software options available to run your business, and you should parse carefully anything a vendor is saying, that casts doubt on open source alternatives.
A Little Open Source History
This debate has been raging for over 30 years. For anyone still asking the question, I would suggest that you are little late to the party. As I have written about, the underpinning of my technology career has been open source software. In 1988, I discovered that people and companies were volunteering their time and resources to develop and improve the software that embodied the operating systems and networks that a large part of the technology and research community relied upon. This model made complete sense to me, and instantly convinced me to began working alongside everyone else, to offer fixes and eventually improvements, to the software we were depending on for our livelihoods. As a result, in the late 90s, I spent considerable time meeting with companies like Sun Microsystems, HP, IBM, Oracle, etc., to explain the inner workings of open source software development, along with an explanation of the motivations to participate. Many commercial software vendors, global governments and Fortune 500 companies saw the benefits of using open source in their businesses decades ago.
We’ve been having this debate for decades. It made sense 20 years ago to use open source software. It makes even more sense today.
Open Source Solutions Available for Your Business
Aside from the fact that the Apache Web Server has been hosting a majority of websites for over 20 years now. Not to mention that Linux and several BSD operating system distributions have been hosting Apache and other critical applications for just as long, there are some amazing open source projects out there that I want to bring to your attention. These projects represent a small subset of what is available. I hope this gives some indication of just how healthy, varied and viable open source software is for real enterprise applications. All of these open source software offerings are focusing on providing hosting and/or support services alongside their very capable, and freely available, open source software stack.
While Slack is well established as the must have communications tool for any fast moving business, if you would like to host your own “Slack” server, check out Rocket Chat. There are also a number of hosting services that are ready and willing to help make it easy to launch your own service. Checkout Sandstorm.io or Heroku.
I know of a number of companies that have spent millions$$$ of dollars on Business Process Management tools. Check out Camunda. It will blow you away. At a glance, this is easily as feature rich as any competitive commercial solutions I’ve tried, from some of the biggest software companies in the world. If you need BPM in your business, this should be on your radar to evaluate.
Open source tools like Hadoop and Apache Spark are relied on by nearly every company doing data analytics, big data, or data modeling (Call it what you want). Talend provides an extremely powerful set of tools that sit on top of these other tools to help you manage the data and the components needed to make it work in your environment. Ten years ago, this was the domain of some very expensive software solutions. Today, you can have your IT team grab a copy and give it a spin without every speaking to a sales person.
Odoo is pretty much in a category by itself. This is what many enterprise software companies have aspired to offer their customers, but in my experience, have always fallen short. This is kind of an open source SalesForce solution, without all of the legacy. They offer Content Management, CRM, ERP, Accounting, Inventory, Timesheets and more. I’ve only scratched the surface in looking at this, but it again, provides a daunting amount of functionality, and you can download it for free.
Benefits You’ll Enjoy when Using Open Source Software
Shorter Procurement Process
Open source software does not require a long discussion and negotiation regarding cost and license terms. Just download and start your evaluation. You’ll have a very clear picture, after giving it a try, as to its suitability for your application. If you need a support organization in order to bring this type of software into your environment, these companies and others have built their entire business model around providing support for the open source stack.
You’re only risking the time you spend evaluating the software and potentially time spent if you choose to move forward and later decide it is not the right fit. There is no upfront investment, so no pressure trying to make something work because you have invested dollars in software licenses. No more “shelfware”.
Because most open source projects leverage open source software and standards from other open source projects, there is almost guaranteed integration between other technologies in the landscape. No more battles convincing proprietary software vendors to integrate with another (possibly competitive) software vendor.
Happier Development and Operations Teams
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in my career, working through bugs and other issues found when trying to implement software. If you saddle your development team with proprietary software, they are going to be completely reliant on the vendor for solutions. Something that in my experience, will only add to the overhead costs of using proprietary software. Having access to the software, at the very least enables you to identify the potential problem and, for some teams, could enable you to fix the problem and make your first open source software contribution back to the community.
In closing, after over 30 years of active open source development, and with nearly every technology enabled device having some component of open source software embedded, it is time to stop asking the question about whether open source is a viable or safe solution for your business. If you have specific questions you would like to discuss, I am happy to respond via email.