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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

4 reasons enterprise open source works best

The federal government has embarked on a new era of digital transformation fueled in part by the passage of the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act in December and the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act in 2014.

An important aspect of this transformation and modernization is the federal government's embrace of open source, personified by the launch of Code.gov, to support innovation, flexibility and reduce costs. 

Recently, the Department of Defense unveiled its own new open source software portal -- Code.mil  -- highlighting the potential of open source technologies for the government’s top-funded federal agency. This platform marks an important shift in mindset for the DOD, as it will allow agency developers to collaborate in ways previously unavailable, which is a net positive for the agency. 

However, government must approach the use of free and open source software with some caution. In order to guarantee security, reliability, capability, certification and interoperability of hardware and other software components,  DOD networks require enterprise-supported products, even those that include open source components.

The benefits of enterprise open source boil down to four key aspects: capability, choice, cost and community.

1. Capability

A vast and growing network of technology contributions allows anyone tapped into an open source community to embrace top-of-the-line capabilities on a rolling basis. Open infrastructures are built specifically for the purpose of integrating new solutions, making legacy infrastructure improvements  less difficult or time-consuming than working with a proprietary solutions vendor. 

Globally, other nations -- including the United Kingdom, Australia, Israel and many others -- have been on the front lines of open cloud platforms as a service for precisely these benefits. Former U.K. CTO Liam Maxwell recently highlighted how open platforms can help governments increase data sharing and interoperability among departments to build more efficient services for citizens. 

2. Choice  

An open source community has more options than any single proprietary vendor can offer. Diversity in potential partners begets innovation by allowing IT professionals to pick and choose the items and solutions that most closely match their system needs and operational frameworks. This mitigates a long-standing problem among data managers of feeling locked into a single vendor’s solutions. 

Evaluating “best of breed” options gives enterprise open source managers the ability to focus on the mission rather than data management pain points. This in turn creates an agile system built for a rapidly changing data environment that significantly increases functional capacity and lessens the effort required to integrate solutions on an ongoing basis.

3. Cost 

The bottom line is that vendor lock-in and proprietary software is costly and time consuming for agencies with shrinking budgets. To this point, the potential cost savings that could result from leveraging open source was a key argument former Federal CIO Tony Scott and former Office of Federal Procurement Policy Administrator Anne E. Rung made in their introduction to the 2016 Federal Source Code Policy. 

Proprietary solutions vendors must recoup the money they invest in developing their solution,  typically by passing those costs on to the consumer -- or government customer -- in the form of an expensive license. Alternatively, enterprise open source leans on the power of the community to develop solutions, passing the cost savings on to the consumer. 

4. Community 

All of the benefits of enterprise open source are made possible through a large community of technology contributors. While the open source community started as a grassroots movement of individuals and small-scale contributions, today major corporations like Google, IBM, Microsoft and Red Hat are among the largest contributors to open source communities.

Why? These companies recognize the growing influence and value of the open source community. Being active contributors allows them to both benefit from open source and ensure that their systems are compatible with a growing network of software-as-a-service infrastructures enabled through the open source community. 

The bottom line 

The vast and growing network of enterprise open source solutions can play a key role in modernizing government’s IT infrastructures to be fast, functional and future-oriented. Sourcing technology from the top performers in a community of contributors can liberate IT managers from the bureaucratic ceilings established through proprietary contracts. 

With a commitment to the open software solutions community, the public sector can save money while building the IT infrastructures of today and tomorrow.

About the Author

Shaun Bierweiler is vice president of U.S. Public Sector at Hortonworks.

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