All Your Software Are Belong To Us

WhyUseGartner_001 Gartner just released "The State of Open Source 2008". They summarize the report with some of their usual wand-waving predictions on a timeline:

  1. By 2013, a majority of Linux deployments will have no real software TCO advantage over other operating systems.
  2. By 2012, 90% of enterprises will use open source either direct or embedded.
  3. By 2011, open source will dominate software infrastructure for cloud-based providers.
  4. By 2012, software as a service (SaaS) will eclipse open source as the preferred enterprise IT cost cutting method.

There can be no doubt that open source will continue to grow in usage and increasingly permeate IT infrastructures, but I agree with Radcliffe, this is going to happen much faster than Gartner predicts. In fact, I think Gartner is wrong about most of their predictions. Specifically, I don’t think they fully grasp how pervasive open source is, how quickly it’s growing, nor do they fully grasp the benefits. They are absolutely correct that the use of open source is "elusive". I spoke with Chris Maresca of Olliance Group recently who shared with me a story of an audit he had performed for a particular organization to establish their usage of open source. The organization is very large and was very keen on auditing their own systems; meaning, they had far more of a grasp of their systems than your typical enterprise-sized company. Said org had a well educated prediction of their usage of open source, but by the end of the engagement Chris had shown them their usage of open source was, at least, twice or three times more than they had realized. Open source literally permeated their entire IT infrastructure and they didn’t even know it.

Another example I can offer of Open Source permeating IT is my own experiences with MindTouch. Most often MindTouch Enterprise Subscriptions are purchased directly from the MindTouch website using a credit card. This is done by departmental groups or individuals who have a need they’ve already sated with MindTouch for a few months free of charge prior to buying. Typically this person is within IT, but not necessarily–in fact, I’ve become aware of several office admins (yes, secretaries) who have installed MindTouch Deki Wiki on the front desk computer using our VMware Certified image, but this is not the norm. At any rate, I have personally fielded phone calls from CIOs after the purchase of MindTouch Enterprise Subscriptions that go something like this:

"I’m calling about this MindTouch software my company purchased. I’m trying to figure out if there are any licensing ramifications. The dept/person didn’t follow our software acquisition policy…"

You get the idea. And we’ve never lost a deal from one of these calls, to the contrary these have yielded additional sales. My point is Gartner is right about this point and states: "Users who reject open source for technical, legal or business reasons might find themselves unintentionally using open source despite their opposition." This was true even when I worked at Microsoft (software usage, not development).

As for Linux not having any real TCO advantage over other operating systems, well I can’t say I agree with this. The claim is: "version control and incompatibilities will continue to plague open-source OSs and associated middleware". It’s a simple fact that incompatibilities are more easily assuaged when you’re dealing with open systems rather than closed. Moreover, the old claim that management of Linux is more expensive assumes skilled persons on these systems won’t increase nor will tools for managing be developed. Additionally this wrongly presumes a lack of emerging standards. It’s just a ridiculous claim. The fact is open systems will always have a lower TCO in comparison to closed systems. Transparency provides this advantage. Finally, Mark Taylor, of the Open Source Consortium rightly observes:

"Licensing is only a slice of the total cost…companies have only bought as many licenses as they can afford. If you remove the license cost, you may only remove three percent of the of total cost of the existing project, but you also remove the brakes — you massively expand the numbers that project can be rolled out to at no extra cost. Open source gives massive scalability at no transaction cost…"

Next point. By 2012, 90% of enterprises will use open source either direct or embedded. Aren’t they already? If we’re talking about SaaS offerings then they most certainly are. Google, Yahoo!, Web 2.0 apps, etc all utilize open source components. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding the definition of direct or embedded, but it seems to me that if your enterprise is accessing the Internet, they’re using open source! In fact, I would wager there isn’t a reasonably sized company in the world that doesn’t have some open source components behind their firewall. If you think Microsoft doesn’t have open source all over their network you couldn’t be more wrong. It has had open source software being used throughout the corporation for the better part of the last decade. Yes, even before the good work of Sam Ramji and his open source lab.

Moving on. By 2011, open source will dominate software infrastructure for cloud-based providers. Wait, doesn’t it already? What are all the VPS providers using? What is Amazon’s services built on. Right, open source! Moreover, what are these cloud-based providers delivering? If you guessed open source, ding ding, you’re correct. These "cloud-based providers" are serving up Linux, MySQL, and other open source systems in the cloud. Why? Well, that’s what developers and IT professionals want.

Final point. By 2012, software as a service (SaaS) will eclipse open source as the preferred enterprise IT cost cutting method. What? This is a clear demonstration of Gartner’s (typical) lack of understanding of the trend they’re analyzing. Open source is a software development model. SaaS is a software delivery mechanism. If you don’t understand this you shouldn’t be writing a report on open source, SaaS, or even software for that matter. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention, again, that SaaS providers are, almost universally, building on open source components. In most cases, they do so without adhering to the spirit of open source by not redistributing their modified source code, but they’re not required to and that’s a different post.

This report simply misses the mark. It’s watered down and mostly wrong, but has a ring of truthiness to it. Gartner realizes that open source is increasingly dominating, but fails to recognize by how much and how quickly. 

Recent relevant articles, some were sources, some I just felt like mentioning:

  1. Open Source as the Borg: Resistance is Futile, Mark Radcliffe’s Blog
  2. Gartner: Open source will quietly take over, ZDnet UK
  3. Open Source Software Made Developers Cool. Now It Can Make Them Rich, Wired
  4. Open source is the new innovation platform, The Open Road
  5. Open Source Business Conference: Great, we won. So what did we win?, Venture Beat
  6. Microsoft: Resistance is Futile, C|Net
    • This last article is interesting. Apply Microsoft’s methodologies for success to today’s ecosystem of software companies. Who’s winning? Why? :-)

8 Comments

  1. Aaron,

    On your following comment…

    “Final point. By 2012, software as a service (SaaS) will eclipse open source as the preferred enterprise IT cost cutting method. What? This is a clear demonstration of Gartner’s (typical) lack of understanding of the trend they’re analyzing. Open source is a software development model. SaaS is a software delivery mechanism. If you don’t understand this you shouldn’t be writing a report on open source, SaaS, or even software for that matter. ”

    I have not see Gartner’s research note yet. But it makes perfect sense. I agree SaaS is a s/w delivery mechanism. But from enterprise IT perspective, adopting open source or SaaS, they have to make business sense in terms of TCO/ROI…. and the driver for the increasing adoption of either of these paradigms is primarily driven by the value and cost. So, from “as IT cutting method” perspective, it makes total SENSE.

  2. Gans,

    While it’s certainly true what you’re saying, the claim is that SaaS will eclipse open source in cost saving. My point is: how can SaaS eclipse open source in cost saving when SaaS is almost always built on open source? So, if you’re using SaaS offerings you’re almost certainly using open source.

  3. isn’td good to listen software as a service (SaaS) will eclipse open source as the preferred enterprise IT cost cutting method.

  4. Gartner report isnt very clear, but what they mean is that ussing OSS in house -databases whatever, will be innefficent compared to outsourcing to Google or whomever, whose OSS SaaS will be massifed and cheap for a their subscribers.

  5. may i add this blog post? i will link back to this post.. please let me know, thanks

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