A blog for the enterprise open source community
The double-edged sword of the economy for open sourceJay Lyman, September 16, 2008 @ 12:31 pm ET
When I talk to vendors, I can often tell how truly open source they are based on their response to the question: what has been the impact of the economy on your business? Those that still have a foot or more in the proprietary software world frequently say, ‘Well, times are tough, but we aren’t really seeing any impact.’ Those that are enjoying the benefits of open source software development, distribution and cost will typically say, ‘We think organizations are being forced to cut costs at the same time they are being forced into compliance and regulation, so it’s driving deals our way.’
Now, while I believe open source may have an advantage in hard economic times when organizations are truly being forced to cut costs, I’m not sure I entirely buy either perspective. I see a danger for open source as some of its largest enterprise users stumble or even cease to be. Big banks and insurers are among the primary forces that have ushered greater open source acceptance and maturity in the enterprise. It began largely with Linux and internal development, but has since spread to other parts of the infrastructure and, more recently, to enterprise applications. Sure, open source stands to gain when even these large enterprise users, many of which would have previously paid practically any price for performance gains and advantages, are tightening their belts. When the customer is no longer a customer for anybody, however, open source loses right alongside its proprietary peers.
The fact that the down economy and alarming developments can have a negative impact on large enterprise customers using open source is also further testament to open source’s enterprise evolution and maturity. It’s also interesting to see how as open source has become less of a factor and more of a choice and which advantages are perceived or becoming most important to customers. While cost is always a leading factor, it recently trailed other reasons for using open source software, according to a survey from open source systems management vendor GroundWork. When 340 users were asked what was most important about open source in systems management software, the top responses were: continuity of support, access to a community of experts, the ability to combine open source tools and then lower cost. Granted this is just the systems management space, but it does jibe with what we’re hearing from other enterprise vendors and customers. Open source is not necessarily just cheaper. The expectations are, increasingly, that it is also better. That may help open source software benefit more than it is burdened by a bad economy, but its place at the enterprise table means it will also likely suffer to some degree.
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