Monthly Archives: November 2011

What is Open Source? The real Cost

If you think this article is going to run over some fixed set of hardware and software costs you would be wrong. Instead, I’ll focus on the general breakdown of open source costs rather than bore you with some prefabricated numbers. The numbers are out there somewhere though.

Lets start out by talking about software license costs. These costs can vary wildly depending upon what you want to do and how you intend to use it. Some pieces of industrial software are free; Linux, Apache, MySQL, Gnu versions of C and C++. Some others are more substantial. Whatever you decide to choose though, its a good bet that an Open Source Software (OSS) alternative will cost you less to implement and change later on. I’m not talking about support costs quite yet, as we’ll cover that next. Of course you can always find an exception to the rule, but lets talk about that later. For most situations OSS is cheaper to implement than a commercial alternative system.

Now let’s talk about support costs for OSS. Its true that some years ago it was more expensive to hire a Linux admin than a non-Linux admin, however these days there are quite a few Linux guys available for a competitive priced. Many of them work with several different operating systems. So the over all price is becoming more equal. Next, let’s assume that OSS software and non-OSS software cost about the same to support. There are exceptions to this of course: some Linux/OSS systems will require less to support than others, and vice-verse. Overall we can assume that support costs will be similar for both types of software.

What about recurring License fees? There are some out there, but there is often a free OSS version of your application out there that is readily available. I’ve seen this with Linux, pfSense, and MySQL for example. You can also buy a version with support as well if that is your need. VPN license fees, for example, can cost dearly and create a headache for your support team to install. The same is true for other licenses that get forgotten until after the expiration date.

So why use OSS if the costs are similar? Because the costs maybe similar or even less for some situations, but you also get other costs benefits: stability, security, and peace of mind. You don’t have to continually chase down licenses or security bugs, those get taken care of by the system maintainers and get passed out quickly. Believe me (I’ve seen this first hand), this enhanced security can save you considerable time and money. We’ll talk more about security another day though.

What is Open Source?

I know… You probably have heard the stories that Linux and Open Source is in vogue. But you may have doubts about why open source software (OSS) is a healthy choice for your new or existing business. In the next few articles I’ll try to explain in detail why OSS and open standards can and do help businesses. The focus of this article is to give you the overall map of OSS and why current businesses use it successfully.

First consider a few facts in the current business ecosystem. Android, an embedded OSS system based on Linux, runs a whopping 56% (circa Sept 2011) of all new smart-phones, not to mention the dumb phones too. Why does Google and a multitude of supporting companies use Android? There are many reasons, but I’ll share a few. One is that the cost of development and support is shared between the commercial and OSS communities. Another is that it is easier to design around a know “open” system like Android. It gives more companies an easier time to enter and prosper in this business segment.

Lets look at web server software. Apache HTTP, an OSS that serves web pages has a massive 65% of market share (circa Sept 2011). Apache usually runs on Linux too. Web servers are a very important part of today’s internet, so you should ask youself what is so good about Apache’s software that compels these hundreds of millions of websites to use it? It’s again true that cost is an issue, but there are other reasons as well. One is the good overall security of both Apache and Linux, while another is flexibility and ease of management.

We could go on to discuss other OSS victories like Drupal, Mac OSX’s use of OSS, supercomputing, the cloud, and so on.. But there is a fundamental problem staring right at us: Why doesn’t business use and trust OSS more than they currently do? Why do businesses shell out $millions per year on licenses and contracts for proprietary software and hardware when there are perfectly good OSS alternatives?

The short answer is perception and marketing: Its nine-tenths of the law! Linux and OSS are not as cute and cuddly as many of us would like, and it really lacks marketing pizazz. My next few articles will cover this in some depth. Until then, don’t let the marketeers scare you away from OSS solutions just yet. Stay tuned for next weeks article on cost.