4 reasons CIOs should give open source a second look

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overcoming open source barriers

Seeking out open source solutions is second nature for Red Hat IT. It’s in our DNA, and it’s what we believe in. And while our passion for open source is shared with many IT leaders, I still encounter CIOs who cite concerns about security, intellectual property, talent, and existing vendor relationships as reasons they aren’t comfortable with open source solutions. Here’s what I say when I hear IT leaders identify these as barriers:

Security

Although it’s a dangerous world, commercial open source solutions exhibit very good security, and are probably more secure than similar proprietary solutions because there are more eyes on the code.  

Support for commercial open source products from Red Hat is professional and highly responsive; our customers give us a lot of credit for that. However, don’t assume that an unsupported open source project where you haven’t yet invested in support is the same as a commercial product. Support matters when security is at issue.

Intellectual Property

Of course, you must secure your own legal advice, but as a consumer of commercial open source software, you’re typically not putting your intellectual property at risk as a consequence. When consulting with your legal team, you’re likely to find that they’re much more aware and supportive of open source than they were seven to ten years ago because open source software is now commonplace in large enterprises.

Skills

Most technically-oriented people are starting to learn and use open source solutions by the time they are in secondary school, if not before. Open source skills are generally available, and although it can be expensive to hire highly-skilled individuals, that’s no different than any other technology. The availability of open source community software presents a great opportunity for individuals to inexpensively learn on the job or to learn new skills on their own time.

Vendor

Another comment I occasionally hear is, “We like our current (proprietary) vendor,” or “It’s easier to not move away from our current vendor, which would be a disruption,” and so on. That’s often a statement of vendor lock-in, and lock-in is getting relatively more expensive. Further, speed is becoming increasingly essential and not all vendors can deliver quickly enough for your needs.

Although the cost to move to new solutions is potentially going to be relevant, the cost to stay and continue to pay a “proprietary tax” over time could be even more concerning. You can only move as fast as your proprietary vendor is going to allow you to. We see this in the few legacy proprietary solutions we use internally; they lag well behind current state-of-the-art in terms of their interfaces and other capabilities. 

It’s probably time to start accelerating your enterprise with open source solutions and time to start isolating and moving away from those proprietary vendors because of the lock-in expense and the limited ability to accelerate and be agile.

The four items above are the main barriers I hear other IT leaders cite as reasons why they don’t want to give open source a try. If any of these concerns are holding you back, I urge you to take a second look. You might be pleasantly surprised to learn these aren’t barriers after all.

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Lee Congdon is responsible for Red Hat’s global information systems, including the technology strategy, enterprise architecture, information technology governance, solutions delivery, and systems operations supporting the company. His role includes enabling Red Hat’s business through services, such as knowledge management, technology innovation, technology-enabled collaboration, and process improvement. Congdon has more than 25 years of experience as an IT leader. Prior to joining Red Hat® he was managing vice president, Information Technology, at Capital One where he developed and delivered IT solutions for the firm’s corporate functions and Global Financial Services group.

Lee Congdon is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Ellucian, the leading independent provider of higher education software, services and analytics.

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