Gauging Your Open Source Appetite

Michael Vizard

One issue that gives IT organizations cause for pause when it comes to open source is the whole issue of support. In particular, when it comes to open source applications, some IT organizations fret that the level of support they get from open source vendors in terms of help with the underlying operating system and middleware is not as deep as it is in comparison to providers of proprietary applications.

That's probably true in most cases, but it also fails to appreciate the fundamental value proposition of open source, which is not so much the fact the software is free as much as it is that you are now part of a community.

A case in point of a company that both benefits from and contributes to the open source community is Facebook. According to David Recordon, Facebook senior open program manager, the social network actively contributes to more than 20 open source projects that are foundation technologies used in the building of its services. Those projects include:

Thrift: a framework for scalable cross-language services development.
Hive: a data warehouse project built on top of Apache Hadoop.
Cassandra: a distributed storage system.
Scribe: a utility for collecting data from servers.
Tornado: A framework for a Web server.
JavaScript Connect: a software development kit for Facebook developers.
Three20: a project for linking Apple iPhone applications to Facebook.

While Facebook doesn't eschew proprietary software all together, the company does see the open source community as a whole as part of its strategic plan. To that end, Facebook just became gold sponsor of the Apache Software Foundation, which uses funding from sponsors to drive development of projects and host various events.

The ultimate point here is that if you're not really willing to be part of the larger community, then open source may not be for you. Companies that can effectively be part of the open source community will definitely gain a strategic advantage in terms of cost and expertise. But if your organization is more about waiting to be serviced by a vendor, then you might find the whole open source experience to be frustrating, even maddening, at times.

The key is to not get caught up in all the hysteria. Instead, take a step back and rationally evaluate what kind of appetite for technology does your organization really have and if you're really willing and able to be part of something that benefits the greater good as much as it does you. If the answer is not much, then don't feel the need to apologize for going with proprietary software. It's simply a matter of whether you're a good fit for open source or not. And if not, don't let yourself, or anybody else, beat you up about it.

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