Enterprise Open Source Thrives

Adopters cite OSS' low-cost licensing, flexibility, and -- crucially -- freedom from a Microsoft lock-in as its most attractive features.

According to a new survey from business intelligence (BI) specialist Actuate Corp., open source software (OSS) doesn't simply have a toehold or token presence in the enterprise. OSS has truly arrived.

The Actuate survey paints a picture of a thriving OSS ecosystem, with an enterprise adoption rate that hovers at nearly 50 percent in the United States -- and exceeds 60 percent in France and Germany.

Actuate's findings support those of market watcher Gartner Inc., whose study found that fully 85 percent of respondents (in a sample that included companies in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and other regions) have adopted OSS technologies (see: Anecdotal accounts also peg open source adoption rates in the EU as higher than those in the United States.

Actuate has an entry in the OSS field. Four years ago, it unveiled the BI Reporting Tool (BIRT), an open source distillation of its popular reporting software. BIRT, along with the seminal JasperReports (which is now the product of a commercial OSS firm, JasperSoft), Pentaho, Talend, and other projects comprise a thriving open source BI ecosystem.

Not surprisingly, Linux spearheads the enterprise open source push: nearly half (45.6 percent) of respondents say they've deployed Linux. The venerable Apache Web server -- which has nearly as much brand currency as Linux itself -- is second in Actuate's tally, in use by about 44 percent of respondents.

Other OSS standouts include the Tomcat application server (used by almost 33 percent of adopters), Mozilla’s Web browser (used by 27.6 percent), MySQL database (used by 27.2 percent), and the Eclipse IDE (used by 25.8 percent). The PHP scripting language is used by just over one-fifth (21.6 percent) of respondents, and the JBoss application server is used by one-seventh (14.7 percent).

The Actuate survey paints a somewhat unsurprising portrait of the ways OSS is commonly deployed. For example, just over three-quarters (75.6 percent) of respondents say they use OSS to support their application development efforts, while more than half (53.9 percent) use OSS operating system platforms. Elsewhere, nearly half (47.9 percent) use MySQL or other OSS databases; 41 percent use OSS middleware (such as Tomcat, JBoss, Mule, or other technologies) and more than a third (35.5 percent) use OSS "personal productivity tools" (including OpenOffice, among others.)

Finally, more than a quarter (26.3. percent) of survey-takers say they tap OSS technologies to power their enterprise reporting or BI efforts.

Respondents cite a range of benefits, including, principally, OSS' "no cost" licensing model. Fully 60 percent of respondents rated OSS' cost as its most attractive feature, while just over half (50.8 percent) cited its flexibility. "Vendor independence" (cited by 43 percent of respondents), "access to source code" (42.6 percent) and "built on open platform(s)" (40.0 percent) also rated highly.

Intriguingly, nearly one-third (32.6 percent) of respondents lauded OSS because it's "not locked into Microsoft," while -- in a slightly similar vein -- 31.8 percent cited OSS' "standards-based technology" as a strong selling point. Open source proponents like to trumpet both the involvement of the OSS community and the quality of OSS code, which they claim comprise additional selling points. Respondents to the Actuate survey, on the other hand, rate both factors a comparatively low 23.6 percent and 20.6 percent, respectively.

Indeed, a still-oblique OSS support story complicates the OSS adoption narrative. Nearly half (48.2 percent) of respondents cited questions about the availability of long-term support as a barrier to OSS adoption, while 43.3 percent singled out the "availability of long-term maintenance" as a similar concern.

Nevertheless, a clear majority (53.8 percent) of respondents feel that OSS' benefits outweigh its drawbacks. (In fact, just 13.5 percent of survey-takers said that OSS' drawbacks outstripped its benefits. What's perhaps most surprising is that nearly a third didn't have any opinion on the matter.

OSS still has some ground to make up in other areas. Just 10.2 percent of respondents said that open source software is a "preferred" option when procuring software; more than a third (37.9 percent) said that it's an "explicitly considered" option. On the other hand, nearly half (43.2 percent) said OSS isn't considered as a procurement option, while 8.7 percent said that their parent organizations actually have policies which prohibit the use of OSS.

A Tale of Two Hemispheres

OSS adoption is greatest in Germany, where nearly two-thirds (63.6 percent) of respondents say they're using open source software. France is another big OSS booster: 61.6 percent of respondents have adopted open source technologies. Adoption is only 41.1 percent in the United Kingdom.

This agrees, to a degree, with the experiences of OSS vendors. Vincent Pineau, general manager of the Americas with OSS data integration specialist Talend, says that U.S. companies have been slower -- relative to firms in Germany and other continental European nations -- to warm up to the value of what he calls "commercial" or "enterprise-grade" open source. That's a scheme in which a vendor such as Talend provides not just indemnification -- which Pineau says is a must-have in the U.S. market -- but service, support, and accelerated development cycles.

"U.S. companies are coming to that right now. My counterpart in Europe has gone past that issue about a year and a half ago. In the European Union, the big companies have already come to that," he says.

Nick Halsey, vice-president of marketing and product management with OSS reporting specialist JasperSoft, agrees. "JasperReports was founded in Romania, and iReport -- the graphical design tool for JasperReports -- was started in Italy, so we were strong in Europe for years before the U.S.," he comments.

Halsey and other industry players expect that the ongoing economic crisis could lead to a sharp upsurge in interest in OSS technologies (see:

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