Ten years ago, no one could have imagined that large enterprises would be using open source software for their most mission-critical of mission-critical applications. But that’s a reality nowadays. Look into the IT infrastructure of most companies, and you will find various combinations of open source operating systems, open source middleware, open source databases, open source development tools and open source applications.

Various industry surveys I have worked on for clients trace the growth of open source and Linux. Open source application servers or middleware lead the list, used by three out of four companies. About half now have the open source Linux operating system at their sites for various applications, and about a third have deployed open source databases.

Most vendors have gotten aboard the open source train. The last holdout, Microsoft, has even recently made its own donation to the Linux community, to ensure that Linux-based applications can run on top of Microsoft-based virtual environments.

The promise of open source is that it enables smaller companies, or small divisions of large organizations, to have access to applications or systems they previously could not afford to implement. It also provides a way to quickly deploy applications or expand end-user seats or processors without having to get financial approval from management.

But cloud solutions offer the same advantages. The question becomes: Is it smarter and more cost-effective to go with cloud computing/Software-as-a-Service, or open source?

The main drawback with open source solutions is that they often require the same resources as commercial software packages. The total cost of ownership (TCO) issue has been a long-running debate in the Windows versus Linux camps, with some stating that while Windows requires some up-front investment, the cost of ongoing maintenance and upgrades—especially in staff time—is about the same. The same argument has been made about open source databases versus their commercial proprietary counterparts.

With the cloud approach, many of those TCO and upgrade costs are taken out of the equation. (Note: the cloud option does not yet apply to operating systems.)  

Of course, many cloud providers run their environments on open source software, so many cloud customers will end up indirectly using open source as well. But when seeking faster, cheaper solutions, organizations will need to examine the pros and cons of going with an on-premise open source solution, versus a pay-as-you-go cloud solution.  This may be the next big software question of the new decade around the corner.

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