Open Source Survey Highlights IT Usage, Perceptions, Pitfalls

A surprising number of open source adopters don't have official OSS policies, exposing them to IP infringement or other violations

Chances are that your IT shop uses open source software (OSS). The overwhelming majority of enterprises use OSS to in some part of their organization, and therein lies the problem.

If you do use OSS, market watcher Gartner Inc. recommends you have an official OSS policy. A surprising number of open source adopters are operating without one.

Eighty-five percent of respondents to a recent Gartner survey report they've adopted open source solutions. Of these, more than two-thirds (69 percent) say they haven't yet implemented policies for formally evaluating or cataloguing the use of open source assets in their environments. One upshot, the consulting warns, is that adopters that haven't codified official OSS policies are leaving themselves exposed to intellectual-property (IP) infringement violations.

This isn’t fear-mongering. "Just because something is free doesn't mean that it has no cost," said Laurie Wurster, research director at Gartner, in a statement. "Companies must have a policy for procuring OSS, deciding which applications will be supported by OSS, and identifying the intellectual property risk or supportability risk associated with using OSS. Once a policy is in place, then there must be a governance process to enforce it."

Gartner's also found that an increasing number of adopters are tapping OSS solutions to replace commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products. Adoption rates are typically higher for infrastructure projects -- where both OSS and commercial offerings are relatively mature -- and in other segments as well.

"In areas where OSS projects are most mature, IT departments appear comfortable with using OSS components to enhance existing infrastructure environments," the Gartner statement says. "However, in the less mature areas of application software, OSS is more readily used as a replacement for commercially available software, probably because of the cost and sophistication level required to customize many application products."

Cost Matters

Open source vendors like to stress that OSS doesn't primarily (or necessarily) translate into cost savings, but for many adopters, open source's perceived TCO advantages are a big selling point. Respondents cited both lower TCO and the "reduction in development of cost-prohibitive factors" as two key reasons they opted for OSS.

According to Gartner, adopters also tend to perceive OSS as more flexible or malleable than COTS alternatives: survey respondents expressed a belief that using OSS "makes it somewhat easier to embark on new IT projects or software initiatives." There's a sense, too, in which users associate OSS adoption with freedom, or -- more precisely -- with protection against being over-invested in (and thus overly dependent on) COTS products from any one vendor.

Gartner cited a number of other perceived OSS benefits --- including a faster overall time to market for open source-based solutions relative to COTS alternatives.

Open source isn't without its drawbacks, however: respondents cited a perceived lack of governance as the single greatest challenge associated with OSS. Other drawbacks included frequently conflicting terms and conditions and a preponderance of licenses and license types.

"Understanding when and how an OSS alternative may be used is a frustrating process, especially when there are so many license types and forms from which to choose," Wurster said. "As time goes by, many of these concerns will be addressed, but this continues to be a slow process. Increases in OSS popularity and in the rate of OSS adoption will drive the required changes."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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