What business hasn’t been tantalized by the prospect of open source software? It’s low cost, easy to access, and adaptable.
And with hundreds of thousands of open source products downloadable with the click of a button, there’s no shortage of open source options for enterprise users.
But is open source software the right route for enterprise?
Can an enterprise with unique requirements, specific needs, and complex projects adopt open source successfully?
In short, the answer is yes. But there are a few caveats to this, a few exceptions, and a few essential steps that need to be taken to make open source software enterprise-ready.
We’ll cover all that in this article.
But first, let’s talk about the benefits of going the open source route.
The benefits of open source
Essentially, open source software is software with source code that anybody can access, modify, enhance, and redistribute. It’s developed collaboratively, and it’s owned by and accessible to a community of users who can (with a few exceptions) do whatever they like with it, from learning from it, to copying it to inspecting it for flaws.
In contrast, ‘proprietary’ or ‘closed source’ software has source code that’s only accessible by the person or organization that created it. External programmers and users can’t modify this kind of software or use it for anything that the software’s creators haven’t expressly permitted.
There are some major benefits to open source software, including:
- Cost savings. Open source software is essentially free to access. Going with open source software means you won’t pay a license fee, and you won’t have to pay for updates.
- Source code access. Having access to source code is a boon for developers and programmers. This kind of access lets you inspect the source code to make sure it’s up to snuff, modify the code to add all the unique features your heart desires, and not be beholden to the restrictions of a software vendor.
- Greater flexibility and innovative power. Open source software leverages a whole community of developers who contribute to the software and work to improve it. It’s not tied to a large, clunky vendor, so it tends to be more flexible and quicker to innovate.
- Independence. Because open source software is developed, modified, and owned by a large community, enterprises who go the open source route aren’t tied to a particular vendor’s platform and tech.
The fine print
For all of the benefits (and there are many!) of open source software for an enterprise, it’s a good idea to read the proverbial fine print. There are a number of challenges that can come along with using open source software, particularly in an enterprise setting.
- Most open source products won’t come packaged and ready to hit the ground running for your particular use
- The quality of service of open source software may not meet the standards of enterprise IT departments
- Developers in enterprise IT departments need tech support, which is sometimes missing from even the best open source products
You get the idea: open source is often a great solution, but enterprise IT departments and developers might not get the support and service standards that they need, and it may not always suit your project.
Luckily, these challenges are hurdles, not roadblocks.
Meeting the needs of enterprise
So how can companies clear these hurdles? Here are five strategies.
1) Consider technology integration
When it comes to a complex enterprise project, it’s unlikely you’ll find a single open source product that can do everything you need.
Instead, going the open source route means working with a few different products at the same time.
Let’s imagine you’re buying a bike. You have two options: buy a standardized, fully assembled bike that’s ready to go; or, you could buy all of the parts you need to build a custom bike that ticks all of your boxes, but requires some assembly.
The second option is often what you’ll be taking on when you go with open source software. You’ll end up with a solution you might like better, but it’s important to be sure that all of the technology is easily integrated and works well together.
Just like your custom-built bike needs wheels that fit the frame, your project needs open source software that fits together seamlessly.
2) Prioritize adaptability and customization
As we just mentioned, it’s unlikely you’ll find an open source product that does exactly what you want, how you want it. It’s probably going to require some tweaks.
So it’s a good idea to prioritize adaptability in the open source software you choose.
All open source products give you access to the source code, which makes them inherently adaptable. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to tweak the software to do exactly what you want.
Before you choose your open source solution, make sure that it can be customized to do the job.
3) Keep quality of service in mind
Open source products often offer up high-quality tech – they’ve got huge numbers of users working with and improving the code.
But enterprise users have high standards when it comes to performance, security, and robustness, among other things. Keeping a keen eye on the qualities of service of the open source product you’re considering will help you ensure that it’s enterprise-friendly.
4) Control the release of new features
Because enterprise IT tends to be a mammoth operation, it’s essential that new or updated software comes in stable releases. This ensures every developer is working with the same version of the software and the same kinds of features.
Because a community of users is continuously working to improve open source software, new features and updates get rolled out in a steady stream.
This is awesome for innovation and peak performance. It’s not so awesome for ensuring that every developer on a project is working with the same bits and pieces.
Luckily, with this in mind (and with a little help) you can implement a standard release process for updates and new features.
5) Ensure that licensing suits your needs
Didn’t we say that open source software lets any user modify the product freely?! While that’s usually the case — especially with open source products that use the Apache or LGPL license — some licenses aren’t well-suited to enterprise applications.
Occasionally, open source licenses restrict the use of the software. Not only does this constrict what you can do with the product, it also opens you up to liability if you modify the software.
Open source software has a long list of perks for complex enterprise applications. But it also has its challenges.
We hope these ground rules for making open source software enterprise ready will be helpful for your enterprise in taking advantage of the magic of open source, without the risk.