Report: The benefits of open-source software go beyond cost

Open-source adoption is not slowing down within enterprises. A recent report found 95% of enterprises are taking open source seriously, with 75% of them reporting that open-source software is extremely important to their IT strategies. That number is up from 69% last year.

The 2020 State of Enterprise Open Source by Red Hat is based off of 950 interviews conducted with IT leaders worldwide. 

“For our second annual report, we wanted to know more. With 95% of IT leaders agreeing that enterprise open source is important to their enterprise infrastructure software strategy, it’s safe to say we don’t need to ask ‘if’ anymore. We need to ask ‘why’ and ‘how,’” Jim Whitehurst, president and CEO of Red Hat, wrote in the report. 

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The report also found that the amount of enterprises looking to increase their use of enterprise open-source software grew from 59% to 77% this year. In comparison, proprietary software adoption is declining. Last year, about 55% of respondents reported using proprietary software. This year, that number is at 42% and Red Hat expects it to go down to 32% in the next two years. 

“Maybe it doesn’t surprise you that proprietary software is losing favor—expensive and inflexible proprietary software licenses result in high capital expenditures (CapEx) and vendor lock-in. However, the rate at which organizations are abandoning proprietary software is notable, especially given how slowly change usually comes to the enterprise software space,” the report stated. 

The top areas where open-source software is being applied within the enterprise are security, cloud, database, and big data and analytics. Enterprises are also looking to leverage open source for IT infrastructure modernization, application development, and DevOps.

“When asked to choose the top three benefits of enterprise open source, the IT leaders we surveyed highlighted three areas. The first was the quality and security of the software. In other words, traditional enterprise software attributes. The second was forward-looking capabilities. So benefits like access to the latest innovations and working with cloud-native technologies. The third was lower cost of ownership,” Gordon Haff, technology evangelist at Red Hat, told SD Times. 

However, despite the growth and interest in open source, there still are challenges when adopting it. The report found security of the code, level of support, compatibility, and lack of skills as the top perceived barriers of adoption. 

“To be sure, some of these responses could apply to just about any type of software. But open source can tempt companies to try to self-support even though they don’t really have the expertise and even though building infrastructure isn’t a core competency of theirs. That’s where enterprise open source comes in,” said Haff. “In terms of using open source software–but really software generally–security is an ongoing challenge. Many tools exist to help with securing software and its supply chain. However, they’re not deployed as widely and systematically as they should be and there are probably too many tools solving narrow point problems.”

Haff suggested looking at trusted sources for software and dependencies as well as having automated tools built into the pipeline that can detect any unpatched vulnerabilities.

Beyond cost, the benefits of open-source software include: higher quality of software, lower costs of total ownership, better security, and access to latest innovations, according to the report.

“I think at least some people still look at open source through the lens of downloading code off the internet and assembling it themselves. It’s important to know that most organizations will get the greatest net value from open source by primarily using supported enterprise open source,”said Haff.

The report also looked at how enterprises are dealing with their legacy applications compared to more modern applications. Cloud-based apps outnumber legacy apps 61% to 39%, according to Red Hat.  

When it comes to replacing legacy apps, 47% of legacy apps are being re-architected or modernized. In addition, 31% of legacy apps are being left as is with plans to sunset or decommission some of them. 

“While open source is still a new concept to some, it has been and will continue to be, the driving force behind much of the innovation we are seeing today around cloud computing, automation, artificial intelligence, big data, and machine learning. All of the megatrends happening in technology are user-driven and playing out in open source first,” Whitehurst wrote.

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The ethical side of open source

When developers contribute, collaborate, or obtain open-source code, they look at how the code will help bolster their other projects as well as ensure they are complying with any open-source licenses. One thing that doesn’t get enough attention is the ethics of that open-source project, according to Heikki Nousiainen, CTO and co-founder at Aiven, an IT service management company. 

“Some of the ethical considerations one needs to take when using open-source code are checking for bias or exclusion, accuracy, crediting your collaborators and sharing code or finished projects in return,” he said. 

The realities of running an open-source community

Over the summer, Facebook’s open-source JavaScript library React was under fire after racism and harassment were discovered within its community. The incident is known as #Reactgate and it ended with the designer Tatiana Mac, who raised awareness of some of the issues, resigning from the industry, and React software engineer Dan Abramov and library author Ken Wheeler deactivating their Twitter accounts temporarily. 

According to reports, the drama unfolded after a talk Mac gave at Clarity Conf about the broader impacts designing systems can have and how to design in a more ethical and inclusive way. After the talk, users commented that she was talking at a social justice conference, not a tech conference, and another user tweeted that React developers were into weights, Trump and guns — things spiraled from there. 

“People care more about protecting the reputation of a **framework** than listening to **multiply marginalised** people that you have actual **white supremacists** in your niche community and our broader community,” Mac tweeted in response to the backlash

Abramov deactivated his account, stating “Hey all. I’m fine, and I plan to be back soon. This isn’t a ‘shut a door in your face’ kind of situation.  The real answer is that I’ve bit off more social media than I can chew. I’ve been feeling anxious for the past few days and I need a clean break from checking it every ten minutes. Deactivating is a barrier to logging in that I needed. I plan to be back soon.” When he returned to Twitter, he said deactivating his account was “desperate and petty.” 

Wheeler also returned to Twitter, stating, “Moving forward, I will be working to do better. To educate myself. To lift up minoritized folks. And to be a better member of the community. And if you are out there attacking and harassing people, you are not on my side.”

As a result, Facebook has adopted a new code of conduct and vowed to combat online harassment. The code of conduct states: “In the interest of fostering an open and welcoming environment, we as contributors and maintainers pledge to make participation in our project and our community a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of age, body size, disability, ethnicity, sex characteristics, gender identity and expression, level of experience, education, socio-economic status, nationality, personal appearance, race, religion, or sexual identity and orientation.”

According to Nousiainen, other ethical issues in the open-source community include using code for profitable reasons without contributing in return. “But this is true in any online group, unfortunately, and I think the issues are limited considering the size of the open-source movement. However, businesses and developers should always be ensuring that they’re following the code of conduct for the community and playing fair,” he said. 

In order to ensure an open-source project promotes innovation while balancing ethics, Nousiainen explained that ethics should be ingrained into projects and initiatives from the beginning. “By understanding the open-source community’s code of conduct and implementing best ethical practices throughout the entire project, ethical considerations won’t be compromised in the name of innovation. In this way, the hope is that breaches of conduct or unethical acts are not suddenly revealed later down the line, but prevented beforehand.” 

“Our role is to empower maintainers to grow healthy and welcoming communities around their open-source projects. The goal isn’t just to prevent or reduce the visibility of disruptive behavior (blocking users, hiding content, etc.), but to actively encourage maintainers to adopt inclusive behaviors, even if they don’t have previous community management expertise,” added Ben Balter, senior product manager of community and safety at GitHub. “We want to encourage users to be good ‘online citizens,’ and can do that by either adding friction to disruptive behavior or reducing friction for inclusive behavior, with friction being how easy or hard it is to do something on the platform.”

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