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FCW : March 15, 2015
Amid the well-deserved hype about the impact of cloud technology and big-data analytics, casual industry watchers might have missed the real story behind the recent wave of IT re-architecting. Enabling many of these recent, powerful trends is a newly validated embrace of open-source software technology. The movement to OSS solutions is empowering system designers and solution architects to re-examine methodologies that evolved out of the legacy proprietary, closed-source software license model. Simply put, OSS allows developers of IT systems to create better results and cut costs. Enterprise IT leaders in business and government have taken notice of the benefits of OSS. For example, the recently launched U.S. Digital Service published a Digital Services Playbook that urges agencies to “consider open- source software solutions at all layers of the stack.” The General Services Administration extended that think- ing in the recently introduced “open source first” policy as part of its effort to modernize its organization, process- es and technologies. Defense policy-makers have gone further, directing those within the Defense Department to identify bar- riers to the effective use of OSS within DOD so that the military can continue to increase those benefits. More flexibility One of the key drivers of OSS adop- tion has been cost. But although the savings can be dramatic, cost reduc- tion is not the whole story. OSS also creates the possibility of more reli- able, more trustable, more function- ally appropriate and just plain better solutions. Historically, companies needed to factor in the cost of closed-source software at peak license distribution even if they routinely needed a small- er number of licenses. On top of that were support fees tied to the peak dis- tribution. Therefore, solution design- ers had an incentive to constrain dis- tribution of software even if the use case was under-served. That is clearly not the case in an open-source world. Both the solution architect and budget manager only need to consider the support costs, not the licensing costs, and vendor support is generally more cost-effec- tive than internal capability. In the case of a distributed database solu- tion, the difference in cost can really add up. A simple example of how the move to OSS can improve IT architecture is with regard to database backups. In the legacy regime of closed-source software, each license of an incre- mental database came with a cost — often a steep one. In the world of OSS, enterprise users can maintain replicas of databases as backups with no incre- mental license cost. The more copies of the database software you have, the more options you have when things go wrong. The more copies of the data management or analytics software you have, the more choices you have to efficiently move your data around. Security and reliability Cost alone can carry the day for some projects, but security and depend- ability are the main drivers for many mission-critical needs. Here, too, open source is a great alternative to closed source. Contrary to a common myth of OSS, most of the development and support is per- formed by dedicated, highly trained professionals who are on par with the development shops of any of the top tech firms. In fact, many of the best OSS projects have the support of lead- ing commercial enterprises such as Red Hat, Google and Salesforce.com. Still, OSS must pass the close BY STEPHEN FROST The real story in IT innovation is open-source software, and it might just be the mega-trend in technology for this century How open source delivers for government DrillDown 30 March 15, 2015 FCW.COM 0315fcw_030-031.indd 30 2/20/15 10:14 AM
March 30, 2015