As open source applications become increasingly stable, companies must learn to view the software as just another piece in a comprehensive application architecture that will include open source as well as closed source components.
That was a key theme during Gartner's Open Source Summit, which ran last month at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Hotel & Spa in Phoenix. Gartner estimates about 500 IT professionals attended the second annual event, which provided one-on-one time with analysts, a handful of analyst and vendor sessions, and user reports from such companies as Deutsche Bank and Yahoo about the risks and benefits of using open source software.
"We're not looking at a business case for open source; we're looking at specific business issues where we need an application or a solution whether it is open source or not," said Yoav Intrator, global technology and operations chief architect at Deutsche Bank Asset Management, during a user panel discussion. "If you're looking for a business case for open source, you're probably taking the wrong approach."
Nikos Drakos, research director at Gartner Research, noted in his keynote address that in the next few years open source will be a given in most data centers, just as the Internet has become a given in how companies interact with partners and customers daily.
Open source software "already is becoming a part of life for many organizations" looking for cost savings, flexibility and open standards, he said.
A key to successfully implementing open source software is using the same kind of evaluation and procurement methods as are used for buying commercial software, Drakos said. In addition, enterprises should focus on integrating open source with other open source pieces, as well as with closed source and legacy products, a task that is becoming easier as such companies as SpikeSource, OpenLogic and Optaros emerge to provide preintegrated stacks of software or, in the case of the latter firm, provide consulting services.
IP phone company VoilaIP, for example, was able to bring in open source because of Optaros. "We try to look at open source as not just savings upfront . . . but as providing more options than we would have otherwise," said Richard Lyders, director of information management at VoilaIP Communications in Houston, during the panel discussion. "By partnering with Optaros we can put the onus on them to support [the open source pieces]."
When deciding where to begin with open source, companies should look at greenfield environments or areas where skills will easily transfer (such as moving from Unix to Linux), Drakos said. For companies concerned about licensing issues with open source, the answer is to not change the source code and use the software like any packaged application, he said.
At the same time, customers must be smart about how they approach open source software, especially with the growing number of vendors emerging to sell and support the community-created applications, he said.
The lines between traditional commercial vendors and open source vendors are blurring, Drakos pointed out. Today, enterprises not only can buy open source software from commercial entities that have emerged around open source projects - such as Red Hat and MySQL - they also can get open source software and support from traditionally closed source vendors, such as IBM and Oracle.
"The difference between open source vendors and traditional vendors is becoming less clear," Drakos said.
Not that that's a bad thing, because some organizations may feel more comfortable with a larger, more established vendor standing behind the open source application, analysts said.