The Open Source Solution
Open Source Advantages
Before you commit to the adoption of open source, Critical Thinking 101 mandates that you ask the question, "Why?" This section attempts to answer that question from a variety of perspectives. Open source has impact not just for developers and in-house IT managers, but also potentially for every person throughout the value chain of an organization from management to knowledge workers to suppliers, customers, and partners.
By and large, the effects of open source are advantageous with benefits ranging from lower costs to simplified management to superior software. These advantages include the following:
Lower software costs—Open source solutions generally require no licensing fees. The logical extension is no maintenance fees. The only expenditures are for media, documentation, and support, if required.
Simplified license management—Obtain the software once and install it as many times and in as many locations as you need. There’s no need to count, track, or monitor for license compliance.
Lower hardware costs—In general, Linux and open source solutions are elegantly compact and portable, and as a result require less hardware power to accomplish the same tasks as on conventional servers (Windows, Solaris) or workstations. The result is you can get by with less expensive or older hardware.
Scaling/consolidation potential—Again, Linux and open source applications and services can often scale considerably. Multiple options for load balancing, clustering, and open source applications, such as database and email, give organizations the ability to scale up for new growth or consolidate to do more with less.
Ample support—Support is available for open source—often superior to proprietary solutions. First, open source support is freely available and accessible through the online community via the Internet. And second, many tech companies (not the least of which is Novell) are now supporting open source with free online and multiple levels of paid support. All open source solutions distributed by Novell are included in support and maintenance contracts.
Escape vendor lock-in—Frustration with vendor lock-in is a reality for all IT managers. In addition to ongoing license fees, there is lack of portability and the inability to customize software to meet specific needs. Open source exists as a declaration of freedom of choice.
Unified management—Specific open source technologies such as CIM (Common Information Model) and WBEM (Web Based Enterprise Management) provide the capability to integrate or consolidate server, service, application, and workstation management for powerful administration.
Quality software—Evidence and research indicate that open source software is good stuff. The peer review process and community standards, plus the fact that source code is out there for the world to see, tend to drive excellence in design and efficiency in coding.
Taking a comprehensive and critical view of open source should raise some questions as well, regarding drawbacks. There have been several criticisms by detractors of open source, but most of these can be mitigated or relegated to myth status. Here’s a short list of possible concerns (each of which are discussed in subsequent sections):
Open source isn’t really free—"Free, as in a free puppy" is the adage meaning no up-front costs, but plenty (often unseen or unanticipated) afterward. Implementation, administration, and support costs—particularly with Novell solutions—can be minimized and the reality is that there are still no licensing fees.
There’s no service and support—For some companies, support is mandatory. More on this later, but open source support equal to that available for proprietary software is available for the same price or less.
Development resources are scarce—Linux and open source resources are actually abundant—the developers can use the same tools, languages, and code management processes. In reality, the universe of developers is the largest of any segment. And, with the evolution of Mono (the open source equivalent to .NET), all of those Windows/.NET developers become an added development resource for Linux.
Open source is not secure—It might seem to be a simple deduction of logic to think that the code is available, so anyone can figure out how to break it. That’s not quite true with the momentum of the community (especially Linux). Also, the modularity required for distributed development of Linux and open source also contributes to security with tight, function-specific, and isolated code segments.
Training is not available—This used to be true, but not anymore. Available Linux training, for example, has ballooned with certification courses coming from every major training vendor. Novell has created multiple levels of Linux certification and integrated training programs. Check your local bookstore and you’ll see a whole section on Linux and open source.
All open source is a work-in-progress—True for some, but not for all. The key components like Linux, Apache, MySQL, and Tomcat are dominating prime-time Internet with stable, secure, and production-quality solutions. Some open source offerings are maturing, but they are still workable, and for the companies that use them (with access to source code), the software is good enough.