How to Succeed with Open Source Software

Blog 17-35 RSkriletz

by Rick Skriletz, September 29, 2017

There is a shift happening in enterprise IT today. A decade ago, open source for the enterprise meant Linux. Today, it means a wide range of capabilities supported by the Apache Foundation, The Free Software Foundation, and others with their software usually found in SourceForge and GitHub but sometimes at the developer’s website.

Open source has changed the landscape for enterprise software and is placing traditional IT software vendors under a great deal of stress. It is also changing the selection criteria for software acquisition. Where an IT software vendor’s financial strength, product capabilities, and references were the cornerstones of a software selection process, open source has changed that.

The key to open source is the community behind each software project. It makes sense that a large community will advance the software rapidly. The rapid development of Hadoop- and streaming-based technologies are examples of this. But there are several criteria to focus for success with open source when selecting open source software.

Key items to investigate to be successful with open source software:

How widely is the software project utilized?

Is it part of a wide range of offerings, like Hadoop and Spark, or does it seem to be used in only one vendor’s offering?

This is important because there are hundreds of open source components available, some that are nothing more than a software component embedded in a larger, more comprehensive piece of open source software. If an open source component is used widely, then there is a good likelihood that the software project and its community will continue to thrive.

On the other hand, it has become common practice for vendors to make components of their offering open source. This is done with the hope that open source contributors will find the component interesting to work on and further develop its capabilities. This is not necessarily the case and the community may be largely the vendor’s employees.

So, the core issue is to gauge the long-term sustainability of the open source software by understanding its popularity and the strength of community behind it.

Does the vendor support the community with committers?

It may not be a problem if an open source software component is not widely used. It may be largely unique to a vendor because there are multiple open source projects that perform the same function. If this is the case, the vendor usually supplies a large number of committers to the project because of the software’s importance to their product.

How active is the community? 

Does it have a development roadmap that is being followed? Do new releases and enhancements come at a reasonable pace?

The core issue is sustainability, or the ability of the open source project and community to deliver improvements to the software and fix its problems quickly. Unlike a vendor, the open source community does not make commitments regarding delivery of software functionality. Their roadmaps are planned but depend on contributions of community members to develop and test new functionality.

A popular gauge for evaluating the strength of a project’s committee is to track the number of commits per month over time. This can reveal the popularity of the project and their ability to maintain and enhance the software. Evaluating a project’s commit activity, release history, and open, unresolved software problems will indicate the sustainability of an open source project.

Does the vendor make sufficient revenue to be viable for long-term support?

This gets to the crux of open source. Every open source vendor wants to be as successful as Red Hat has been with Linux. However, vendors’ using open source software running on commodity hardware is still a developing business model with evolving price points. Traditional software vendors are adding open source components to their offerings with some price adjustments.

There is not a risk of open source software disappearing, but there may be one of its support disappearing if a vendor’s business model is too lean for long-term viability.

Success comes from these principles

  • Don’t fear open source software, but carefully evaluate the vendor and community behind the options you consider.
  • Reduce risk by focusing on the open source software you need (avoid software bloat) and monitor the activity and health of the projects and communities they rely upon.
  • Know that using open source software means it can become your custom software if the project stalls or is no longer supported. Don’t fear this. After all, custom software that lets your business operate as it needs and acquired at open source prices can be a bargain.

The world of software has changed and we have entered the age of open source. RCG’s knowledge of and familiarity with a range of open source software helps clients navigate the process of evaluation and selection to achieve success with open source software.

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