By Forrester Research
Special to CNET News.com
April 14, 2004, 11:00AM PT
By Ted Schadler, vice president
Open-source software's biggest benefit is that it is freely available, which means that smart developers will be constantly experimenting with components that help them build applications faster.
But companies putting business-critical applications into production must also know that their open-source components are well-supported and free from intellectual-property concerns. Forrester's open-source "adoption funnel" provides a simple decision framework to help IT executives decide when to put up decision filters, which key stakeholders to include along the way and what additional risks must be considered at each stage.
This five-stage framework balances the open-source innovation opportunities against the requirements of production systems:
Companies' procurement practices for commercial providers are well established, but their open-source procurement practices are either ad hoc or missing. IT organizations should use the open-source adoption funnel as a simple tool to help make better decisions about open-source components.
Forrester's advice to CIOs?
Don't shut off open-source experimentation prematurely. Shutting off downloads to keep open source out of production systems is like telling developers to work with one hand tied behind their back. Why?
Make the pilot stage the critical decision point. Still, you must put controls into the funnel to keep disputed or risky components out of production. The pilot or funding stage is the best place to do that. Force your development teams to keep an inventory of new, open-source components so that you can vet them for acceptable licenses and quality before fully funding the project.
Arm your open-source advisory group with the funnel and decision tools. Fund a multidisciplinary team comprised of developers, managers, lawyers and procurement specialists to evaluate the risks of an open-source component and community. Quantitative assessment tools can help companies make informed decisions about the health of the community and the quality of the commercial support.
Open-source software will disrupt commercial software markets with low-cost, good-enough components. That means that software vendors watch nervously, as open-source components like JBoss and MySQL move into their core markets. These same vendors also use open source as a weapon for disrupting markets that they don't control. For example, SAP supports MySQL, precisely because it wants to commoditize the database tier. And IBM supports Eclipse, precisely because it doesn't dominate the developer tools market. But vendors will find ways to adapt their business practices to respond to open-source software. Look for these trends:
Independent software vendors will exploit dual-license strategies to open their own adoption funnels. Software licenses can differ, based on how the software is used. For example, MySQL uses the General Public License to make the MySQL database freely available to developers and a commercial license to collect money from companies that deploy an application on MySQL. Look for vendors like IBM and Sun to explore this option for software like Cloudscape and NetBeans that opens developer doors.
Vendors will also compete aggressively, using open-source scare tactics. BEA Systems, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and others will sell against open-source license, support and integration risks to protect their core markets. Firms should weigh vendors' legitimate arguments against a rational decision process, based on a quantitative assessment.
Systems integrators will sell services to help companies mitigate open-source risks. Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, Electronic Data Systems and others will help their clients evaluate open-source components and institute open-source decision processes. Companies should take advantage of these providers' expertise but should not expect any service provider to have all the answers to tough open-source questions about license exposure or code forking.
© 2004, Forrester Research, Inc. All rights reserved. Information is based on best available resources. Opinions reflect judgment at the time and are subject to change.