Case study

The Open Source Advantage

What are the pros and cons of looking at open source software as part of an organisation's IT strategy?


Does opting for open source environment help Praveen Kumar drive down cost of IT in the true sense?
Praveen Kumar, IT manager at a manufacturing company, is using proprietary software across OS, servers and other applications for some time now. Kumar finds costs escalating with new software licenses being procured year after year and even during mid year with new employees joining or expansion in business processes requiring new applications.

Each time Kumar also has to answer the queries of top management over the high costs. Tired of justifying his decisions, Kumar decided to look at available open source options..But before going for it, Kumar wanted the invaluable feedback of his peers in the industry, especially those who have used open source in some form.

Kumar was bombarded with suggestions on the various forms of open source available, cost consequences, its advantages and disadvantages across operating systems, applications, server level and so on. Kumars dilemma multiplied. However, one thing that was clear to Kumar was that one time cost and recurring cost, were the two major factors that influenced the decision to move on to an alternate resource. The other factors to be kept in mind concerned user licenses, licensing policies and license inventory, which were huge challenges.

Kumar also wanted to know how to ease the hassle of managing software procurement policies and cost. Is it a beneficial to include open source as part of the IT strategy? Does open source provide ease of deployment and the required cost savings? Is open platform viable considering that hybrid cloud model is on its way?

Against this background, Kumar sought expert views on the following two aspects that he feels will help him make the right move.

1) Is open source the best option for IT managers to look at from OS, application, servers etc., perspectives? If so, why and if not, why not?

2) What kind of cost advantage can Praveen Kumar expect by using open source? What are the trends in open source that will help Kumar? How effective is the support system for open source?


Dharmaraj Ramakrishnan, Head, Core Banking, ING Vysya Bank Ltd:

First Answer
Before jumping onto the open source bandwagon, Kumar should take certain parameters into consideration. They are: a) organisational technology landscape; b) functionality and flexibility; c) usability, performance and scalability; d) security; e) legal/license issue; f) cost of the current infrastructure, market share, support and maintenance; g) reliability; h) knowledge base within the technology team.

It is often useful to jot down a brief list of functions that are vital and current capabilities required. Flexibility to handle business scenarios and that can be customised is the most important element to look for in open source. There are certain open source programs which support APIs, plug-ins or a command language. This shows flexibility in terms of customisation.

Kumar should not ignore usability, performance and scalability factors of open tools as well. It is essentially to measure quality of the human-machine interface for its intended user. Security is another key element that he has to ensure, as evaluation of a products security is difficult as different environments often call for different security measures. One way to solve the security issue is to identify the requirements well in advance and check whether the open source products meet those, and that it works to counter vulnerabilities in general. It is critical to ensure that end-user license agreement is takes all critical aspects into account..Cost and TCO are the keys to any software deployment and this holds well in the openware too. The positive aspect of open source is that developers often write software with great passion that lacks proprietary ones.

Open source software provides greater flexibility and freedom compared to commercial products. The latter claim flexibility as a built-in feature. According to me, flexibility really means business flexibility, so that when business requirements change, solutions should not be unreasonably constrained by software. This is particularly important in the area of infrastructure components: the architecture of the IT solution rather than any one package. Open source software gives freedom from a single vendor and allows you to retain not just the right to use the existing software, but also to continue using it as needs change.

Second Answer
With changing business models tech mangers are being asked to do more with less. Teams and applications are more distributed than ever. Against this backdrop, open source is definitely the mainstream and first choice for building any kind of application or service they are providing.
The advantage of open source is that it is componentised, lightweight and transparent to develop any application. The integration process is made easy. Most open vendors have been successful with the enterprise subscription model. Its coming to the point where organisations wont have a choice other than to use open source as a way to try to keep up with the pace of change. Open source trend for this year would be cloud integration which is driving customer interest.

Kamal Sharma, CIO, Mindlance:

First Answer
Open source software is used by a large group of IT experts on cost and customisation platforms. Kumar should take cognizance of that fact that openware brings along security issues, as measuring security quantitatively is a little difficult for open software. Opening the source of existing systems at first increases exposure, which becomes a critical security challenge unless customised. Immunity from outside hacking attacks is a concern for open software.

One of the key issues of open source is that it exposes the source code to everyone, both the attackers and defenders. Handling security issues needs constant check and monitoring. Evaluating security track records before adoption is a must. Availability of customisation for open software also gives him the liberty to modify it to best suit your requirements and meet security standards.

Open source software surely has advantages as it allows customisation to specific needs, besides availability of the source code makes it easier for others to customise; often the entire OSS community can benefit from such changes. OSS use provides more decision points, not just in software but also in support and hardware, and more choices lead into more and greater flexibility. In the case of proprietary software the vendors usually do not allow users to alter or customise their products and mature products offer more features than their OSS counterparts. Proprietary software vendors also often structure products as suites instead of modules and store user content in proprietary format.

Second Answer
Kumar can expect a comparatively low support cost in OSS due to competitive market forces in software support. However, external support is only available for a fee, and it might be difficult to identify sources of paid support for uncommon OSS products. Support is also available via the huge OSS products user community, while in any proprietary software support is either included in the licence cost, as with term licences, or available for an additional annual fee. The only source of external support is the proprietary software vendor, and the lack of alternatives reduces user leverage during negotiations.
Overall use of open source software brings along a lot of advantages such as lower total cost of ownership, reduced dependence on software vendors, easy customisation, higher level of security, etc.

Vilas Pujari, CIO& VP - IT, ACG Worldwide:

First Answer
Before contemplating open source deployment, Kumar needs to categorise needs based on desktops, servers and applications. Instead of jumping into a full-fledged open platform across all the categories, he could start with desktop OS platform on open source such as Open Office or Linux or so across users. Later, he could look at office productivity tools for email exchange, active directory and so on. Use of Linux-based servers could drive greater efficiency and there is good support available from the open source community. Certain non-critical applications can also be migrated to open platform, as the manufacturing company will have a host of applications and dependency on proprietary software for all of these would turn out to be expensive.

Second Answer
Use of openware is definitely a viable alternative to save cost. However, a word of caution: In the open source space, if Kumar intends to go with a vendor, the support cost is going to be relatively high. There is a subscription fee charged and the user has to meet certain end point requirements to get the required support pack. Using open source Kumar could easily find good return on investment. I would say that there would be easily a 50 per cent saving on cost in the email exchange using open source platform and in the productivity tools, 100 per cent cost saving could be observed. Having an in-house open source trained team will have an added advantage to resolve any issue arising out of open source.

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