Lower acquisition costs, lower total cost of ownership and greater flexibility in choosing hardware and software are the top reasons companies are deploying open source software, according to a recent survey.
Conducted by Boston-based Forrester Research in February 2004, the study revealed that 65 of the 140 companies questioned -- almost 50 percent -- are using open source applications.
Twenty other companies polled intend to use open source products within the next 12 months, while 55 of the respondents have no plans to use open source at all.
Another study conducted by Forrester of 290 North American companies indicated that the top goal of 69 percent of those firms is to decrease their overall operating costs in 2004.
However, whether open source software is cheaper than proprietary software is still under dispute among IT professionals.
"There are plenty of costs that are buried into bringing a new piece of software into an organization, things like integration and support," said Ted Schadler, vice-president, software research at Forrester. Some benefits of using open source software include gaining more control over the network infrastructure because companies can choose the platforms they use, control security and software assets that work with the open source components, he added.
Every one of the 65 companies polled in the first study about open source usage is running Linux. Additionally, all of the 20 companies planning to use open source in the next year foresee using Linux -- that's 85 out of 140 companies.
The next most popular open source product with the 85 companies running or planning to run open source is Apache with 75 percent, followed by MySQL at 52 percent and Apache Tomcat at 44 percent.
Of the 85 companies using or planning to use open source in the next 12 months, 39 percent use or plan to use scripting languages PHP, Perl or Python, while 38 percent use or plan to use SAMBA and OpenOffice.org. Twenty-one percent have deployed or will deploy Jboss, while 18 percent use or will use Struts. Additionally, 17 percent develop or will develop software using Eclipse.
Top concerns cited about open source from all 140 companies surveyed include lack of support and the availability and maturity of applications.
Companies are also worried about not having workers skilled enough to support or use open source applications, the licensing costs, security and getting sued.
Schadler said that open source software can be a valuable part of any organization's infrastructure, but there are arguments IT professionals need to learn to sell their companies on open source.
"If you're a Unix shop, open source ought to be very attractive to you purely because of Intel economics -- the ability to run Unix workloads at Intel economics is really an open source phenomenon," Schadler said. "You might argue that if it wasn't for Microsoft (Corp.) we wouldn't have Linux because Unix was good enough. As soon as...Windows started to get good enough for enterprise workloads, the ability to run Unix on that same (Intel Corp.) price point was very important."
Since Linux is so similar to Unix it is easier for companies to migrate workloads from Unix to Linux, compared with Unix to Windows.
IT professionals also need to teach their organizations that open source is more than just free software, Schadler said. It's the result of the open source methodology, which is based on the scientific method published results, peer review and modular development, he explained.
"It produces high quality software and the most high quality intellectual property in the world," he said.
Additionally, Schadler said IT executives often overlook the Internet as the enabler for open source -- it connects the community and provides companies with countless support resources from around the world.
While executives are often concerned about licensing costs Schadler said IT professionals need to educate their companies about how user-friendly open source licenses really are.For example, some organizations, like MySQL, provides a dual license, one for general usage and one for commercial usage, which comes with enterprise-level support.
Before jumping into open source, Schadler recommends companies form an open source advisory committee comprised of IT professionals, developers, financiers and intellectual property lawyers to evaluate the following: the health of a community supporting a particular product; the licensing scheme; the leadership behind the product; which vendors support and contribute the product; and what kind of commercial support is available.
According to data from Forrester in October 2003, Linux server, BIND and Apache were evaluated to be market leaders in open source. MySQL, Samba, PHP, Apache Tomcat and Eclipse were strong performers, while OpenOffice.org was doing okay but not without risk. Jboss was considered a risky platform to deploy but its prospects have improved since then, Schadler said.