Developers could make better use of open source

In today's tight times, open source is an attractive option, CEO says

A Massachusetts-based provider of tools for accelerating the use of open source in software development estimates conservatively that 10% of development spending is redundant given open source code already available. Black Duck Software's CEO and president, Timothy Yeaton, says there is an opportunity, especially in tough economic times when IT budgets are slim, to save money and redirect scarce developer resources to other areas of the business. "We see development budgets cut, yet these companies are in markets where they're serving customers, where they have to continue to innovate through the recession," said Yeaton. Collectively, US companies can realise savings of more than US$22 billion (NZ$37 billion) a year by reusing open source code in their application development, says Yeaton. There is a definite potential for significant savings on development costs, and companies "may be aware of occasional components of open source that might be useful for certain tasks, but the scope of it might be underestimated dramatically," Yeaton says. There exist, he says, more than 200,000 open source projects representing more than 4.9 billion lines of code, an investment of two million developer years — figures derived from Black Duck's own database, called KnowledgeBase, of open source code and associated licence information, and the US Bureau of Labor. In fact, the 10% estimate is an extremely conservative figure, says Yeaton, who has witnessed a customer, after committing to maximise the use of open source code, save about 88% of development costs. While that individual result does fall at the higher end of the spectrum, Yeaton says 50% is "definitely achievable". Jay Lyman, enterprise software analyst with New York-based The 451 Group, agrees that the 10% estimate is conservative because the use of open source in most organisations is typically significantly underestimated, especially among those at the management level. Leadership may conjecture they are using just several open source components, says Lyman, but then "find they have 140 different open source packages in use either in their business or in their products". The use of open source code in application development is more than just a mere cost-cutting strategy, says Yeaton, choosing instead to characterise the approach as a fundamental change in how customers are building software. "It's really shifted customers' emphasis from 'How do I define a solution from end-to-end?' to 'How can I identify components that I can already use, integrate them, and spend my scarce developer resources on adding my specific business value or drive innovation?'" The hurdles to re-using open source code stem from a lack of awareness of what's even available and possible, as well as automation and management challenges with incorporating open source components into an application development cycle, says Yeaton. While individual developers are very familiar with open source, businesses may not possess the mechanisms to help them seek out and incorporate the open source components of value to them, he says, and to vet them for security vulnerabilities, export control requirements, licence compliance, and build them into the development process on a steady state basis."

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