Open source vs. COTS: 8 integration considerations


Open source vs. COTS: 8 integration considerations

Nothing is moving faster to the top of IT wish lists than hybrid integration platforms. They offer agencies the ability to use application programming interfaces to integrate on-premises, cloud and mobile applications. However, IT managers face a critical decision when it comes to choosing between an open-source or commercial-off-the-shelf enterprise service bus (ESB) for integration to support that hybrid environment.  Below are eight considerations for deciding which digital initiative to implement.

1. Open is not free. While open-source solutions don’t charge license fees, agencies may run up expenses because the solutions can be difficult to configure and customize. Often developers must manipulate large XML files and write complex code to support relatively straightforward business requirements. So, “free” may actually turn expensive if the agency doesn’t have internal staff with a strong grasp of open-source environments, and it finds that specialists are required for installation and ongoing administrative and support.

2. Long-term growth. Investing in any new integration can be costly and time consuming. Therefore, agencies should be certain that what they choose will support scalability and long-term expansion plans. It is widely known that open-source ESBs simply cannot match the scale and number of integration implementations of a commercial ESB solution. As such, they are usually deployed at small companies or in small, developer-based projects at larger enterprises. In addition, agencies must consider vendor viability. In a constantly changing industry, open-source vendors may be acquired, merged or fail, leaving customers with no continuity.

3. Integration tolerance. Open-source software typically requires extensive integration during implementation. This means an open-source ESB often provides limited options for integrating into systems managing business processes, file transfer and APIs. Also, it is important to consider the depth of adapter offerings provided by the ESB vendor, especially for packaged applications. Not having the adapters that an agency needs impacts developers’ productivity because they may have to write custom code.

4. Support options. Whether agencies are leaning towards COTS or open-source integration options, a support contract is critical. This support is necessary to avoid deteriorating software quality, security vulnerabilities, patches that may not get installed, bugs that may be left unfixed and, ultimately, an increase in overall total cost of ownership.  In an open-source environment, agencies may be forced to find the necessary support skills internally or via a support contract with a specific open-source ESB provider.

5. External partners. Integration is not always limited to internal applications and IT systems. It should also include external entities, such as customers, suppliers and vendors.  Be prepared to have B2B solutions in place that will work closely with the selected integration solution.

6. Messaging requirements. Messaging often get overlooked in a COTS vs. open-source ESB decision. Evaluate the agency’s messaging needs and make sure the chosen provider offers best-of-breed, “universal” messaging support across the various delivery channels and implementation topologies currently in use. Be sure open-source messaging software can support the high-speed and high-volume requirements posed by modern-day applications.

7. Control of the product roadmap. Open-source integration software is built by a community  of developers. As a result, individual open-source vendors can have little or no control over the developer roadmap.  The future of the product may or may not be not be in line with an agency’s user requirements. This could become of great issue, if an agency has key initiatives that must be executed by a specific time. 

8. Cloud expenses. Small open-source ESB providers may not be able to support all integration categories, forcing them to invest more heavily in supporting a cloud-based model. As a result, they may pass those investment costs directly on to customers, further closing the gap in the cost differential between open-source ESB software and commercial ESB solutions.

When it comes to selecting a mission-critical solution that can impact an entire agency, it’s important to consider the benefits and drawbacks of the options.

About the Author

Chris Steel is chief solutions architect at Software AG Government Solutions.

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