Guest Post: Supply, Demand, and Open Source Enterprise Adoption

by Ostatic Staff - Feb. 16, 2011

Back in the day, it was tough to convince company managers to even consider using open source software, much less give it a whirl in a production environment. These days, it's practically unheard of to not investigate open source solutions as part of the decision-making process. Lucid Imagination's Eric Gries takes a look at what's behind the uptick in the adoption of open source software and what it means for its long-term use in enterprise.

Supply, Demand, and Open Source Enterprise Adoption

by Eric Gries, CEO, Lucid Imagination

Just a few years ago, it seemed easy to reject open source software on the grounds that it was too complex and immature, even risky. That was then; this is now. Today, working with mature open source software is almost conventional wisdom. More importantly, the economics of the entire open source marketplace have changed fundamentally.

Today’s software industry truth (understandably terrifying for commercial software vendors) is that open source development has moved way beyond delivering lower-cost “acceptable” software for budget-conscious companies. Now, more often than not, it delivers better software than commercial vendors -- software that’s being adopted by successful companies where exasperated managers recognize they are being charged inflated prices to maintain and upgrade existing packaged software that simply isn’t as good as lower priced alternatives. We’re seeing this first hand in the Lucene/Solr search space in which we play -- and it’s by no means unique to search.

The adoption of open source software is being driven on both the supply side and the demand side of the equation. On the supply side, the meritocratic development ethos of open source promotes only the best and brightest content through the engineering process, creating an environment of  "frictionless innovation." It is fundamentally a much better way to collaborate, ensuring that the features users really want end up in the product -- with public peer review filtering out poor code. Compare this to the way most proprietary vendors move the development process forward. With only token input from customers, factions within the company battle it out to prioritize new features, usually optimized for a few of the largest customers or customer deals.  If you’re not in that elect group, your needs won’t be met. Fixing feature flaws and an aging code base become cost/benefit decisions where more time is typically spent on the decision than the fix.

Meanwhile, companies with a demand for high-quality software recognize the availability of great solutions from the open source community, and who doesn’t need that? Sure, it was difficult to find the right open source project in the early years; those brave enough to try were often on their own. The process was tricky and testimonials from peers were rare. Today, the process is smoother, and the abundance of success stories makes it far easier to find the right project and build on it, knowing that its benefits have been validated and that top-tier living, breathing developers will continue to make it better

This dynamic of supply and demand has led to broad availability of enterprise-grade open source software, from mature, highly stable projects. The risks of adoption are equal to or lower than you might face with commercially licensed software. These projects are typically supplied with essential commercial complements, such as 24/7 support, regular release schedules, easy-to-use interfaces, and streamlined APIs, eliminating the final obstacles to open source software adoption.

Finally, there’s little doubt that these technology shifts have transformed the economic pressures of the last few years into a virtuous cycle. Companies around the world have revolted against the inflexible licensing and pricing options of commercial vendors that left customers -- already abused by the downturn -- feeling robbed for a second time. And history may well judge that commercial software vendors, worried only about their near term captive revenue stream, made a huge strategic mistake by remaining inflexible, which released the open source floodgates.

In the final analysis, the result is a very different industry today in which customers no longer have to make a difficult choice between low-cost software and enterprise-grade solutions. They can now have both. And that changes everything.