CIOs: Open-Source Software Offers Cost, Quality Benefits

A panel of IT officials say open-source software is more than good enough for just about all their needs, except maybe the database.

BURLINGTON, Mass.—A group of CIOs said they started using open-source software primarily because of cost reasons, but then stuck with it because of the quality and reliability of the code.

At a Feb. 11 panel on the CIO perspective at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Forum of Cambridge event on open source, a group of CIOs shared their views on open-source software, and all said they had favorable experiences and will continue to look for IT advantages through open-source software.

However, one area the CIOs said they still see risk in trusting their core investments to open source is in the database.

"Its too dangerous for us; we have nine million users and theyre banging at our databases all day long, and its just not worth it for us to move off of Oracle and DB2," said Barry Strasnick, CIO of CitiStreet Online, a financial services provider that is jointly owned by State Street Bank and Citicorp.

"It is just too risky for us" to trust that to open source, he said.

However, Strasnick added, "I would pay $100,000 a year for a good open-source sort product," Strasnick said.

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Likewise, Joseph Kennedy, vice president, Technology Architecture and Strategy Services, State Street Wealth Manager Services, said: "One of the areas we dont enter into the open-source world is the database."

However, Kennedy said, "The reason we started with open source was a cost decision ... Cost was my original reason. It allowed me to do a lot of things I wanted to do. And we realized we werent dealing with software that wasnt going to work. We found it was high quality and higher quality than other software. It was one of the best decisions I couldve made."

Thomas Reynolds, senior executive director, Information Systems and Technologies, Idenix Pharmaceuticals, said that while his company does not use a lot of open-source software, what they use is not simply because of cost, but also because of quality.

"Its higher quality, more consistent and has a strong community," he said.

In addition, Strasnick said "open-source software tends to keep up on releases better than some proprietary software."

Moreover, "We spend as little as we can wherever we can," Strasnick said. "One of our to-dos is reducing the cost of our hardware and software maintenance. The main reason were moving to Linux is the hardware vendors charge too much for maintenance on non-Intel CPUs."

Reynolds said Idenix is in a period of rapid growth, having recently completed building out its infrastructure to move the company into this phase. "So the shift has been from pure infrastructure to keeping software costs low.

State Streets Kennedy said because of his open-source moves and purchases, his superiors "dont scrutinize me as much," regarding IT expenditures.

Claudia Boldman, director of policy and architecture in the information technology division of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, said that in a state where there has "been a matter of declining budgets" she has to look at "how do we maintain the effort with less money."

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