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4 reasons companies say yes to open source

Howard Baldwin | Jan. 7, 2014
Open source isn't just about saving money; enterprises are adopting it to applications faster, with higher quality components.

Madhu Nutakki, vice president of digital presence at Oakland, Calif.-based healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente, concurs that open source brings value in the form of flexibility.

[Open source] gives us more flexibility when we release updates more frequently. Madhu Nutakki, VP, Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente has been using the GitHub source code control system since 2011. "It was built by developers for releasing code in an expedited way. It gives us more flexibility when we release updates more frequently," says Nutakki. (Note that while GitHub also works with proprietary development tools, Kaiser uses it primarily for open source deployment.)

"We started using GitHub because our paradigm changed to a faster release model," Nutakki explains. The healthcare provider's increasing push into mobile means that it's now serving customers who have higher expectations for frequent updates. "We used to build large applications with a release cycle of every six months. Over the last two years, we do releases more quickly — monthly, quarterly and even faster," he says. "With other products we were using, it took much longer to do a build. With GitHub, it takes an hour."

Forrester analyst Hammond confirms that open source's speed advantage is making it more popular in enterprise IT development. "If you ask a developer how they're going to handle a specific project, they can respond that they don't have to buy specialized hardware, because they can run it on Linux. They can use an open-source development framework, and they can develop what someone needs specifically."

Open source also brings a lot of "elasticity" to the process of spinning up new resources, Hammond says. "You don't have to ask 'Do I have a license?' or 'Do I have to buy more software?'" he says. That's why there's a high correlation between cloud-based and open-source software, he points out — both provide a scalability and flexibility that companies haven't had in the past.

Open source mitigates business risk
Another, perhaps unsung, benefit to using open-source tools, and thereby reducing dependence on a single or multiple vendors, is that the open-source option may reduce business risk. Milinkovich notes that Eclipse came into being when the company that made TOPCASED, a development tool for embedded systems, was acquired. "The developer was acquired and stopped working on it," he says, so the companies that used it and loved it, notably Airbus, banded together to create Eclipse to continue supporting it.

Vendors come and go, and commercial priorities change, whereas a community's focus is more constant. "The openness and transparency of open source mitigates a lot of risk," says Milinkovich. "Whether a company is big or small, it'll stop developing code if it's no longer commercially viable, and you no longer have access to the source code and repositories. If you can actually get a vibrant community built up around your code, it's much more resilient than a strictly commercial enterprise."

 

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