Friday, October 16, 2009

Open Source vs Commercial

Not my usual fare for Linux in Exile, but wanted to share anyway. A friend pointed me to the most awkward article I've seen in a long time, comparing "Open Source" vs "Commercial" software. I'm not convinced the author at ITSM Watch really understands what he's writing about.

The article is very short on specifics, mentioning only Nagios (monitoring system) by name. As a result, the author casts about for a target, and comes across as waffling and lost. From the article:
  • How is the company that uses open source software within their internal IT environment going to update and maintain the solution in their environment?
  • How "mature" is the open source solution?
  • What mission critical applications will be supported by this open source solution?
If the answers are less than satisfactory, then a commercial application would probably be the better choice.
These should be the same questions you ask of every software package you implement in business, not just open source software. I work for a large enterprise, and my teams support over 1,100 servers. No matter what the software or who is the vendor, we ask these same questions for everything we support.

Doesn't matter if the software was written in-house at HP or IBM, or by an OSS developer on his/her free time, the questions will be the same.

When you dig into it (although it's a very short piece) the author seems most concerned about support. From the article:
“I could program an ITIL solution in one week and provide it for open source download and it would be worthless,” said Chris Drake, founder and CEO of FireHost, a hosting company. The problem lies in the lack of a large community base to support the solution. To gain any advantage from open source, IT needs to learn the solution on its own, find a service firm to help, or rely on the community for support, making up-time requirements a prime consideration.
I call bullsh*t. Your 3 options to using open source are not 1. learn it on your own, 2. find someone to help, 3. rely on community support. You can purchase actual support for most open source software systems, just like any software package. Even Nagios has support plans.

At the end, the article asks about open source software: "Where do you go for support if the software breaks?" That's easy. You buy the support before putting that software in place in the enterprise, which is what the article is about. We do this where I work, and that's why we buy RHEL - to get support if we need it.

It's the same no matter if you run "open source" software or "commercial" software.


  1. Stacked comparisons like that always overrate the value of paid support and underrate the value of google and source code.

  2. I would counter that all the concerns about open source are just as valid for commercial software. What if your vendor goes out of business or has poor support?

    Anyone who has maintained the Blackboard learning management system knows precisely how useless and even harmful vendor support can be.

    The IT organization is ultimately responsible for ensuring service is delivered; support contracts make managers feel better, but at the core IT must understand and be able to maintain, fix, upgrade and migrate from any software system they rely on. The fallacy is that IT can buy its way out of this responsibility.

  3. apthorpe, I think we're agreeing: These should be the same questions you ask of every software package you implement in business. It's the same no matter if you run "open source" software or "commercial" software.


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