When Open Source Meets the Enterprise

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    Open source solutions have long been an option for the enterprise, but lately it seems they are becoming more of a necessity for advanced data operations than merely a luxury for IT techs who like to play with code.

    While it’s true that open platforms tend to provide a broader feature set compared to their proprietary brethren, due to their larger and more diverse development communities, this often comes at the cost of increased operational complexity. At a time when most enterprises are looking to shed their responsibilities for infrastructure and architecture to focus instead on core money-making services, open source requires a fairly high level of in-house technical skill.

    But as data environments become more distributed and reliant upon increasingly complex compilations of third-party systems, open source can provide at least a base layer of commonality for resources that support a given distribution.

    According to Yoav Kutner, founder and CEO of app developer Oro Inc., open source is no longer defined by loose collections of like-minded coders but is driven by well-funded corporations that can easily match proprietary developers in terms of support, functionality and reliability. Firms like Red Hat have developed top-notch quality assurance and security programs and have learned to successfully monetize their platforms in ways that encourage free use and distribution while also providing revenue streams that fund development and support. As well, many OS solutions provide a lower TCO than proprietary systems, with free versions of software providing all but the most advanced enterprise features.

    Indeed, says Microsoft fellow John Shewchuk, the open source world is flourishing today precisely because it has been able to turn out some of the most advanced enterprise solutions on the market. Platforms like GitHub are laying the groundwork to remake industries ranging from transportation to health care, and the number of companies planning to launch open source projects has risen by 50 percent since 2014, according to a recent Black Duck/North Bridge survey. And unlike many closed solutions, the open community style of development offers an organic means of shedding weak or unproductive code in favor of tools that solve the real-world problems of their creators.

    Open source is also providing a means for the advanced infrastructure designs of the leading hyperscale providers to trickle down to the common enterprise, says CIO’s Mary Branscombe. Programs like the Open Compute Project, founded by Facebook, offer templates to design and build hyperconverged, hyper-scalable infrastructure, which can be obtained for free since Facebook is in the social media business, not the infrastructure business. In this way, organizations of all sizes can get to work streamlining their infrastructure, breaking the artificial bonds between hardware and software, and positioning themselves for the Big Data workloads that are already driving IoT and other applications.

    As mentioned above, however, open source is not without its challenges. As Datamation pointed out in a recent slideshow, many developers still like to reuse code from earlier generations of software, which has the potential to re-introduce security flaws that were thought to have been addressed. As well, responsibilities like patching, updating and license management still fall on the enterprise, not the developer or the user. And as anyone who has waded into the chatrooms and billboards of the OS community can attest, there tends to be a fair amount of, shall we say, “spirited conversation” regarding how certain functions should be implemented and how the platform as a whole should evolve. And it is important to note that with much of the mobile workforce relying on iOS these days, Apple is the lone holdout among all the legacy tech giants when it comes to embracing open source.

    Still, as I noted a few weeks ago, the more automation that is introduced to enterprise infrastructure and operations, the easier it will be to deploy and manage open source solutions.

    So at this point, it seems that few organizations will need to convert all of their proprietary technology to open source, but open source will be desirable when it comes to supporting applications and services that are distributed across multi-platform cloud infrastructure. The biggest challenge of all will be to get these two constructs to work together.

    Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.


    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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