Navin Suri, Percipient’s CEO, gives six compelling reasons why organisations should leverage open source software
Don Duet, Co-Head of the Technology Division at Goldman Sachs, recently added his voice to a growing army of corporate proponents of open source software. According to Duet, “Open source has really dramatically changed in the last several years… open source is now fully permeated in just about everything we do from a technology perspective.”
While “open source” is a relatively new term, free software as a concept is said to have been born in 1983, when Richard Stallman launched the NGU project’s manifesto of lifting all restrictions on the use of its source code. Fifteen years later, the Open Source Initiative was formed, based on the principle that any individual or organisation had the right to study, change, and distribute open source software to anyone and for any purpose, including commercial purposes.
Seems like a no-brainer, yet to date, many organisations remain reluctant to leverage on this huge intellectual give-away. I myself often get asked “…but isn’t open source risky?”, and my answer is invariably that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Therefore, while much has been already been written on the benefits of open source versus proprietary codes, here is why I think open source brings distinct advantages to an organisation.
1. Better Security
In the same way that the police in every country encourages citizens to get involved, stay vigilant and report on suspicious activity, the open source community plays a positive monitoring role. Linus’ Law tells us that, given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow. In contrast, products with codes closed to public view become risky, as bugs remain undetected for longer. And code creators (usually large tech vendors) may not even acknowledge the existence of bugs until they have determined a solution. As a result, businesses are increasingly opting for the transparency and user scrutiny that open source brings. Today, for example, Linux is considered more secure than Windows.
2. Better Quality
For the first time since comparisons started in 2011, the 2013 Coverity Scan report found the quality of open source software to have outpaced that of proprietary code. Their analysis found 0.59 average defect density per 1,000 lines of code in open source software, compared to 0.72 for equivalent proprietary code developed for equivalent C/C++enterprise projects. It is perhaps obvious, but worth reiterating, that many are smarter than a few.
3. No Vendor Chains
Free access to source codes, and the freedom to adapt these code to a business’ needs, are but a pipe dream for organisations locked to vendor-owned proprietary codes. Not surprisingly, organisations needing to be agile in the market are now less inclined to be dictated by the time it takes for the prop code vendor to respond to change-requests. Plus, an organisation’s ability to innovate are tied inextricably to their vendor’s road maps, and not their own.
4. Costs Matter
Given that, on average, an enterprise’s data is set to double every two years, data cost is no laughing matter. Barclays Bank said in 2013 that it had reduced its IT spending for new software development and applications by a whopping 90%, thanks in part to an internal private cloud and open source Linux software. That is also how Netflix is able to price itself so affordably. Built on open source software, the company is able to focus on content rather than on its operating system. Essentially, open source provides organisations with free technology Lego blocks on which to build their USPs.
5. Workforce Motivation
After employer brand and a healthy work environment, there is little that pushes developers’ buttons more than community recognition and peer approval. Organisations that encourage their developers to contribute back to the open source community, also allows them to bask in the glory of peer recognition. A recent survey of container companies (albeit across a wide size range) found that, of the median number of employees (ie 731), 52 were contributors to an open source project. Today, not only is open source seen as a powerful tool for employee motivation and retention, companies are opening up their codes simply to attract engineering talent.
6. Consistent Innovation
Given that vendors come and go, open source software mitigates the risk of company demise. But even among those that remain, it is common for vendors to de-prioritise or sunset a product range that is no longer profitable, resulting in weakened support systems and a halt to system upgrades. It is fair to say that smaller open source projects can suffer a similar fate, which is why it is important to select projects that have staying power.
There are, of course, many open source naysayers, who point to the sometimes less-developed UI in open source software, the familiarity of proprietary software, and the superior support structures, especially when both the hardware and software is supported by the same vendor.
That said, a majority of organisations appear to have decided that the advantages of leveraging open source outweigh the disadvantages. The 2015 Future of Open Source Survey revealed that 78% of global companies run on open source, despite the fact that formal policies to manage open source remain relatively weak. Which is why organisations must now focus on how, and not why, to embrace open source.