To Go Open or Not to Go Open, that is the Question

Brian Kelley, CIO, Portage County
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Brian Kelley, CIO, Portage County

Today in the 21st century, more and more technology companies, businesses, and governments across the globe are embracing open source solutions to drive innovation, reduce costs, and free themselves from the plethora of burdens and restrictions inherent in proprietary technology. Historically, the concept of sharing technology predates the Internet and even the first computers. Henry Ford successfully challenged the Selden patent on the 2-cycle gasoline engine in 1911 enabling a cross-licensing agreement for U.S. auto manufacturing companies to jointly develop and share technology freely without exchanging money or fearing law suits. The concept of “open source” technology would later emerge with the birth of the Internet in 1969 and the free software movement at the end of the 20th century. The consumerization of IT, Internet of Things, cloud possibilities, and disruptive technology driving innovation today pervasively across the globe is no doubt the result of open source technology that is being adopted, shared, and reused indiscriminately to everyone’s benefit.

The rapid evolution and acceptance of open source technology began with open standards centered around operating systems, office productivity software, and internet browsers. Looking into the crystal ball of technology predictions, we see a growing acceptance and adoption of open source technology and increasing movement away from proprietary technology. Driving open source adoption are many of the tech giants whom for the better part of recent past decades have scoffed at open source and viewed it as evil and a subversive threat to their very existence. Microsoft is now moving towards warmly embracing open source and has revealed plans to offer SQL Server on the Linux platform in 2017. Researching firm Gartner predicts that by 2018, 70 percent of deployed applications will be running on open source databases. The Federal Government took a giant leap towards promoting and encouraging open source technology development, sharing, and reuse earlier this year with the Federal Source Code Policy: Achieving Efficiency, Transparency, and Innovation through Reusable and Open Source Software.

  With open source technology comes a greater need for IT governance and oversight—within the enterprise to direct, control, and manage the deployment and use of open source technology 

With this growing momentum to adopt open source technology, one must consider the advantages of open source over proprietary technology that historically has been the strong foundation of IT infrastructure across the enterprise. While proprietary technology initially offered strong, security, reliability, and support, it came with heavy costs, both in terms of financial cost and extreme limitations to integrate with other technology and share data. In today’s information age, open source technology truly opens the door to data sharing, tight integration, rapid application development, and other immeasurable benefits and possibilities that could never be realized with proprietary technology. As CIO’s and CTO’s receive the stern mandate from their C-Level management to do more with less, open source technology is a serious consideration that cannot be ignored to successfully achieve this mandate.

Despite all of the advantage of open source technology, it is not a perfect solution and its strengths must be measured and vetted against some very concerning weaknesses. While open source technology is basically free, support is not free. In-house or third-part support is support is a necessity to support and further develop open source technology. The never-ending plethora of patches, bug-fixes, and changes make source code more complex and ultimately this can lead to a higher maintenance and support cost. With open source technology comes a greater need for IT governance and oversight— within the enterprise to direct, control, and manage the deployment and use of open source technology.

Another potentially insurmountable problem within the enterprise points to the word’s adoption of proprietary operating systems which have evolved to be embraced by end users and application developers. Munich has been a champion and pioneer of open source software in the world, however, Germany’s third largest city is now seriously considering abandoning Linux and other open source office productivity software and migrating back to Windows 10 and Microsoft Office. Driving this call for a change of direction is user dissatisfaction and serious hindrances to efficiency and productivity that are being directly attributed to open source technology. Finally, the concept and definition of open source technology itself raises serious cyber security concerns which cannot be simply ignored, especially with the recent Open SSL Heartbeat exploit vulnerability. While security has been a threat with open source technology over much of its existence, many experts today justifiably put for a strong argument that open source security is not as big of a concern as it once was if well-written security policies and best practices are adopted and adhered to.

In conclusion, identifying and weighing the pros and cons of open source vs. proprietary technology is of utmost importance as the CIO/CTO sets course to future technology across the enterprise. With the ever-increasing and never-ending costs associated with proprietary technology, coupled the ever-growing adoption of open source technology and its immeasurable benefits, there is no better time to jump on and ride the open source technology wave than the present.

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