A blog for the enterprise open source community
The open source dilemma and the IT sandwichMatthew Aslett, March 31, 2008 @ 3:28 am ET
This year was my first chance to visit the Open Source Business Conference, so while I can’t compare to previous years I must say I was impressed with the consistent quality of both the keynotes and the breakout sessions. One of each particularly stood out for me, however: the keynote from Jon Williams, CTO, Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, and the breakout session presented by r0ml Lefkowitz.
As Matt Asay notes Jon offered some interesting insight into why enterprises use open source software, including the obvious (if you’ve heard it cited enough times), such as lower startup costs, reduced barriers to entry, and the not-so obvious, such as the fact that it is a great staff retention tool. As Zack Urlocker reports, Jon noted how developers crave new technologies and how open source enables them to not only use new technologies, but also roll up their sleeves and get involved with it.
Another point Jon made was that the subscription model helps keep open source vendors on their toes as every year he gets to decide whether they will received another payment. I have been skeptical about the validity of such claims given that the list of alternative support providers is often non-existent (if you’re not going to get your Alfresco support from Alfresco, where are you going to get it from?) but he also made another point that proves there is always an alternative.
The point Jon made, as Matt Asay explains, is that “the more happy he is with his commercial open-source software, the less likely he will be to pay for it. Why? Because his developers will acquire the expertise over time to support themselves and because the product will mature to the point that support will be less necessary.”
There are essentially two ways that open source vendors can respond to that dilemma: further innovation and the introduction of proprietary products. Once mentioned, the dilemma cropped up again in a couple of other sessions, notably the one presented by Matrix Partners’ David Skok in which he noted how the JBoss Operations Network was used to introduce proprietary technology through the back door.
If the number of open source vendor executives in the room is anything to go by, expect the new breed of open source vendors to choose the proprietary solution to the dilemma.
Meanwhile, r0ml’s “forget the factory, enterprise IT is a deli” actually had little to do with open source specifically and more to do with the changing way in which software is used and consumed. You get an idea of the presentation from this short blog post, but I’d advise anyone and everyone to attend the presentation should he give it again elsewhere.
Among numerous “a-ha! moments” he pointed out that it is now quicker and easier for a teenager on a laptop in his basement to create a working software application than it is for a an enterprise IT department to do the same (think red tape, licensing, old tools, old processes).
r0ml also outlined how he has taken steps to overcome this situation at Asurion by empowering staff to create their own solutions using commodity building blocks and a few simple rules. It was heartening to see how many other IT executives in the audience had also made moves in the same direction, and given advances like Amazon Web Services it seems likely that more and more enterprises will deliver at least some of their IT like a deli in the future.
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