6 reasons for making the open source argument

6 reasons for making the open source argument

Next time you're in a conversation about open source software, you'll know just what to say.

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If your organization is struggling to take advantage of the open source software (OSS) market, here are some proven ways it can help you achieve truly transformative success particularly if you are implementing DevOps.

1. New opportunities

Commercial software and OSS both provide common capabilities as a commodity to all competitors in a market. However, OSS is distinguished in at least two important ways:

  • Having the source code enables an OSS user to create derivative works resulting in market-differentiating, value-added services.
  • Appropriate governance provides an OSS user the opportunity to create business-focused features that may influence industry patterns of practice.

2. New business models

Use market position to your advantage by deciding which OSS capabilities should be standard and open to anyone and where you would like to compete with proprietary offerings. You can continuously alter the competitive landscape to benefit your customers.

Effectively, your OSS product strategy can define and maintain the boundary between the "red and blue ocean" for your industry's core technology.

  • NextGen Connect offers one example of this business model narrowly focused on healthcare data interoperability. Its product offerings range from OSS to proprietary appliance-oriented options, with the latest features appearing first in the proprietary versions. The line between OSS and commercial/proprietary is constantly shifting with market demands and opportunities.
  • The commercial-to-OS software continuum also supports trends that focus on the monetization of data and services rather than software license revenue.

3. Self-determination

Commercial vendors strive to offer products and services that are attractive to the widest market and deepest pockets. This often results in overly complicated and resource-intensive software bloated with unused features. Products developed to offer specific capabilities can morph into "platforms" trying to serve every need. Vendor lock-in through customization, vertical integration, and proprietary operational processes creates a barrier to change that can be cost-prohibitive and restrict the ability to quickly pivot to new market opportunities.

In contrast, OSS components and solution stacks allow a much finer degree of control and ability to abstract underlying technologies from business processes. Your roadmaps become your own, independent of a vendor's feature and release schedules.

4. Responsiveness

Two critical areas where timely reaction and intervention can avert problems are security issues and bug fixes. Commercial vendors strive to be responsive when addressing such issues but, by definition, they are serving multiple customers with varying needs, sensitivity levels, and sophistication, which can impede their time to deploy a solution.

OSS communities tend to coalesce around deploying the simplest solution in the shortest amount of time. Having access to components' source code allows direct, rapid intervention if needed. The response to the Heartbleed vulnerability incident of 2013 is a good example. Open source based applications consuming affected components could be patched quickly because there was no need to wait on an official vendor supported patch. Users could independently weigh risk and patch as they determined best.

5. Time to market

OSS culture emphasizes self-reliance and naturally leads to DevOps processes and associated organizational alignment. DevOps can be fostered with public cloud infrastructure where appropriate. Open frameworks comprised of OSS stacks and public infrastructure increase your overall velocity and ability to realize value sooner. DevOps and OSS complement each other by emphasizing the importance of just getting started to begin seeing results.

6. Cost-efficiency

There are solid opportunities in OSS to drive hard dollars out of solutions and operational transaction costs if you are willing to pursue supporting strategies ruthlessly. Unlike OSS, commercially licensed products often struggle to differentiate by feature or performance. Bottom-line: with commercial products, often you are paying extra for a trademark's reputation, software-as-a-service delivery, or a support contract—rather than demonstrable added functional value over OSS solutions. 

Making the open source argument is worth the effort. Community-based software development has proven its value in some of the most challenging spaces. Marketplace competitive forces suggest that any business turning a blind eye to the open source movement is ceding a significant advantage to competitors. Just as low-cost, shared resources on the internet have dramatically reduced the barrier to entry when it comes to infrastructure, the rapidly evolving breadth and quality of open source components will quickly alter the competitive landscape across many vertical marketplaces.

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About the author

P. Kevin Nelson - I am an attorney licensed in Tennessee and have spent the last seven years or so establishing and administering an open source program office and governance program for a Fortune 500 corporation.