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The rate at which organizations are adopting open source software appears to be approaching a tipping point, in terms of the ability of internal IT teams to absorb it.

A global survey of 950 IT leaders published by Red Hat finds that following security concerns (38 percent), the biggest barrier to adoption is the level of enterprise support organizations can rely on (35 percent). The survey also notes that while 68 percent of respondents report their organization has increased reliance on open source software in the last 12 months, the number of organizations saying they will increase adoption of open source software over the next 12 months drops to 59 percent. Only two percent say they will decrease their reliance on open source software, while 39 percent say they expect it to remain the same.

“Open Source First” origins

The so-called “Open Source First” movement gained a lot of momentum following the economic downturn that started in 2007. To reduce costs, many IT organizations increased their reliance on open source software, mainly to bring IT budgets in line with reduced revenues. That approach also served to reduce the number of layoffs of internal IT personnel that might have otherwise been required.

In effect, IT organizations were replacing commercial software with open source software to protect the IT staff. In fact, the Red Hat survey to this day identifies the top benefit of open source software as being lower cost ownership (33 percent).

Over the past decade many of those organizations have come to appreciate how the open source peer review process over time often leads to higher quality software, once an open source project achieves enough critical mass. The Red Hat survey notes that the second, third and fourth top benefits of open source software as being access to the latest innovations (29 percent), better security (29 percent), and higher quality software (26 percent).

Where is open source software being employed?

The type of projects open source software is being used to drive varies widely, with IT infrastructure modernization (53 percent) topping the list, followed by application integration (43 percent), application development (43 percent), digital transformation (42 percent), application modernization (42 percent), and DevOps (40 percent). Specifically, the Red Hat report finds open source software is being most widely employed in web site development (45 percent), cloud management tools (43 percent), Big Data and analytics (42 percent), security (42 percent), databases (41 percent), and web servers (38 percent). The survey also notes that 67 percent of respondents also expect to increase their usage of open source containers in the next 12 months.

As is the case with most emerging technologies there’s a real dearth of expertise when it comes to deploying and managing open source software. Many of these projects are driven by contributors that work for major IT vendors. Outside of the community surrounding the Linux operating system itself, the size of the community surrounding an open source project tends to be comparatively limited, with a few notable exceptions. That obviously creates an opportunity for IT services providers to fill a critical gap at a time when most internal IT teams simply can’t keep pace with the current rate of innovation.

IT organizations still have a strong preference for open source, but they are just finding it increasingly challenging to absorb too much of a good thing. That doesn’t necessarily mean those IT organizations will shift back towards commercial software. However, it does mean that many of those organizations are willing to pay a premium to access external open source expertise. Now, IT services providers must  determine which open source projects will generate the biggest return on investment for acquiring that expertise.

Photo: spainter_vfx / Shutterstock

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Mike Vizard

Posted by Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard has covered IT for more than 25 years, and has edited or contributed to a number of tech publications including InfoWorld, eWeek, CRN, Baseline, ComputerWorld, TMCNet, and Digital Review. He currently blogs for IT Business Edge and contributes to CIOinsight, The Channel Insider, Programmableweb and Slashdot. Mike blogs about emerging cloud technology for Smarter MSP.

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