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The rise of open source use across state and local government

Across the nation, citizens are demanding services from state and local governments that compare with what they can find in the private sector. At the same time, agencies are facing difficulties when it comes to modernizing legacy IT infrastructure and bolstering overall cybersecurity, which makes it harder for government leaders to embrace innovation.

By harnessing the innovation associated with the open source community and leveraging the security and reliability of enterprise open source solutions, state and local government leaders can collaborate across private and public sectors. This collaboration allows them to more effectively integrate new products and capabilities through a community-based open-platform approach.

Open source adoption across state and local government

We have seen a significant uptick in the growth of data in recent years, which has put pressure on agencies to find ways to better manage and leverage data. The explosion of data and the need to effectively use it has been a major factor driving the increased adoption of open source across the public sector.

Smart cities are a perfect example of how local governments are putting “big data” to use. Connected devices like smart meters, medical devices and fleet management sensors are generating massive amounts of data that must be processed in real-time. The benefits of being able to effectively process in real-time can be massive.

For example, one major city in the Midwest lacked visibility into how bus components were performing and had to conduct fleet maintenance in a reactionary manner. By leveraging their data and utilizing an enterprise open source platform to store and make sense of it, the city was able to realize efficiencies and cut costs (operating, maintenance, and fuel costs) by 50 percent.

State and local governments have found that open source solutions and approaches allow them to build a modern data infrastructure that can collect, aggregate, and process data in real-time to provide actionable insights and intelligence. As more agencies look to stay on the cutting-edge of technology --while at the same time reducing costs and increasing their flexibility with their data -- open source will undoubtedly continue to serve as a key enabler in accomplishing government missions in the digital age.

Additionally, while the adoption of open source is on the rise across government, a major concern that remains is the security of free and open source solutions (F/OSS). When it comes to tapping into the power of the community, enterprise open source solutions allow agencies to obtain the benefits (interoperability, agility, and improved capabilities to name a few) without sacrificing the security and enterprise features that are essential when protecting government data.

The difference between F/OSS and enterprise open source

It's important to distinguish between “Open Source,” “Free and Open Source (F/OSS)" and “Enterprise Open Source” solutions.

Open source is a term used to denote software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified. Additionally, it often consists of a broad community of contributors participating in a collaborative development process, resulting in greater innovation, improved capabilities, and increased interoperability due to the openness of the architecture and interfaces.

F/OSS projects come directly from the global community of developers. This means that they are true “projects” and not intended to be enterprise “products." With no formal testing, certification, or support processes in place, it's possible that malicious code and costly defects can make their way into these projects. In fact, a recent report looked at 1,000 applications in the enterprise and found that over 60 percent contained security vulnerabilities due to these F/OSS components.

Enterprise open source allows state and local agencies to securely leverage the benefits of open source by delivering a commercial off the shelf (COTS) product that has the appropriate level of enterprise readiness required to support government missions.

Security, cost and compliance benefits of enterprise solutions

A simple solution for agencies looking to defend against open source vulnerabilities is to turn to enterprise open source providers. Enterprise-ready solutions undergo scrutinizing tests to ensure that any defect is detected, prevented, or addressed in a timely manner, thereby mitigating an agency’s risk.

Even further, enterprise solutions protect government networks from these risks throughout the product lifecycle by ensuring the code is up-to-date, secure, and functioning as expected.

Investing in future-oriented, enterprise open source solutions can also help lower the total cost of ownership. This is possible because agencies can sidestep the costly and painful vendor lock-in that comes with proprietary software. Instead, enterprise open source enables users to utilize software that is platform agnostic and enables the agency to make the hardware, operating system, and environment decisions that are optimal for their requirements and mission.

At the end of the day, an enterprise open source solution provides government users with the best of both worlds. On the one hand, they have access to the unparalleled flexibility and innovation found in the open source community, but have the assurance that each product has been properly tested to ensure it is enterprise ready.

Enterprise open source code adoption is on the rise

There’s a lot of hype and excitement about open source these days and rightfully so given that much of the innovation we’re seeing is taking place in the open source community. But it’s important to remember that not all open source is created equal. State and local agencies have critical missions, with tight deadlines and tight budgets so choosing established partners who understand how to quickly and securely leverage open source to meet their big data needs is paramount. This is why government agencies are increasingly relying on enterprise open source options in their system architectures.

About the Author

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

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