Open-Source Enterprise

The question isn't whether open source has a place in the enterprise, but rather where it fits best.

When eWeek Labs was getting ready to publish its 1999 review of the Linux 2.2 kernel, we struggled with the headline. Would "Linux: Enterprise-ready" be too strong?

We decided then that Linux was enterprise-ready, and open sources reach has grown in the years since. In fact, its not a question of whether open source should exist in the enterprise but a question of how much and where.

Carl Howe, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass., estimates that close to 75 percent of all companies have at least tried open source, with Web servers and server operating systems being the most widely deployed applications.

eWeek Labs West Coast Technical Director Timothy Dyck puts that percentage higher: When you figure in small utilities, he said, theres probably no company that hasnt used open source.

Howe noted that open source still often flies under the radar in enterprises—Linux running on a box under someones desk, for example—but that the economics for the open-source model are "undeniable" and that open-source software would displace 20 percent of licensing revenue by 2004.

In "Broaden Options, With Caution," eWeek Labs analysts break the enterprise into meaningful chunks and recommend where and how open-source software could and should be used. From handheld operating systems to enterprise resource planning, the Labs compared the maturity, functionality, cost benefits and inherent risk of open source vs. traditional commercial applications. In "Open Source Gets IT Scrutiny," Senior Writer Anne Chen examines two companies open-source evaluation processes.

Open source, loosely defined, is application source code that is modifiable, distributable and readable, making application development an evolutionary process by which software can be improved and tailored. Open-source software makes sense almost everywhere in the enterprise, although it currently works best in networking-related tasks. CLICK HERE

An accepted practice in the mainframe world and in the early days of Unix, the sharing of source code on the PC platform took hold because of two important events: the creation of the Free Software Foundations GNU General Public License and the decision by Linus Torvalds to use that license when he released the first version of the Linux kernel in September 1991.

Open-source software quietly moved into the enterprise, embraced by data center managers who were able to grasp the value of cheap, malleable software for running discrete servers. Linux and two server applications that had their greatest popularity on Linux—the Apache Web server and Samba—are the most popular open-source programs and have been used quite successfully on enterprise servers.

In the last couple of years, however, the movement has blossomed not only within enterprise IT departments but also at technology vendors up to and including IBM, Oracle Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Apple Computer Inc.

Microsoft Corp. is absent from this group, but many would say not conspicuously so, given its proprietary history. Microsoft has made some moves to share code but has done so contrary to major open-source tenets. "The key thing is that you cant use shared-source software from Microsoft for commercial purposes, a restriction also on any changes," said Dyck. "Its really only useful for academic research and trouble-shooting."