Myths And Realities of Open Source

But is open source ready for such a transition? Understandably cautious organizations are raising questions regarding open source support, security and compatibility with existing systems and infrastructure.

As with all new technologies, it is important with open source to separate the myths from the realities. At BearingPoint we have identified several of the common issues raised regarding open source. Here we offer insight into these concerns and the accompanying realities, which suggest that this promising new approach to enterprise computing is, in fact, ready for deployment in a growing array of situations. In addition, we outline several strategies that firms can pursue to begin tapping the potential of open source.

NEXT: Dispelled -- five open-source myths. MYTH #1: Open source is hype and buzz.
Reality: Open source is here to stay. While not that long ago people scoffed at open source, today large companies are betting millions on it. Microsoft, BEA Systems and IBM are contributing to development of the business process execution language (BPEL), a key open source component. Such participation was previously unheard of from companies that develop and manufacture their own products.

In addition, large-scale application development and deployment using open source products and frameworks, such as JBoss, Struts and log4j has become common in the IT industry. While open source adoption is limited today, we see vendor consolidation and more adoption in the next four to five years.

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MYTH #2: Support for open source is not as good as that provided with commercial products.
Reality: Support is available for open source, but in a different paradigm. True, there is no help desk you can call and tell to "get me a patch." At the same time, open source developers and users have access to the sizable universe of open source tools, fixes and add-ons. As a result, firms can be more flexible and quicker to make desired changes in applications, rather than waiting on a vendor that may not have the same priorities regarding the product.

MYTH #3: You have to go open source all the way.
Reality: No. There are multiple levels of open source deployment. A firm can choose to use only certain components of the open source framework -- for example, an application server, a content management system or framework components within the architecture. Initially, as an alternative, you can just migrate to Linux initially. Then, if things work out, you can develop a road map for further open source adoption.

However, companies, irrespective of their size, will not totally survive on open source. The use of packaged products will likely continue, but open source will play an increasing role in their deployment.

MYTH #4: Security is an issue with open source.
Reality: The implementation of enterprisewide security depends on a number of factors. These include network layout, firewalls, security policies, application software, operating system, Web servers, encryption, and authentication and authorization mechanisms.

Open source applications that offer alternatives to commercial software primarily implement the same functionality as packaged products. Also, unlike commercial products, open source products are constantly scrutinized by a team of developers, which makes building malicious back doors into the software difficult.

Open source is increasingly being used in areas that are normally most vulnerable to security hack-ins, notably Web servers and operating systems. Apache, an open source implementation, is a widely used Web server. In the operating system space, Linux has established itself as a significant player and a practical alternative for some deployments.

In summary, protecting your technology assets when using open source is no different from what is required with commercial packaged software. You need to perform the necessary due diligence to ensure that the product you select is robust and has a good track record. Today a number of companies run firewalls and Web servers on Linux.

MYTH #5: Large-scale open source implementations are limited to Linux.
Reality: This is not true. The IT industry widely views Linux as the shining beacon of open source because it is the best known and most commonly adopted product. But the open source landscape has widened considerably in the last few years with a series of products that span a broad technology spectrum. These include operating systems (Linux), Web servers (Apache), application servers (JBoss), databases (MySQL), scripting languages (PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor), application frameworks (Struts), and many more.

It's important to view open source not as a product to be implemented, but as a dynamic resource pool that addresses a wide variety of enterprise technology needs. Open source is supported in large part by a set of dedicated technologists who have invested considerable time in building these resources, taking great pride in their creations. This provides the additional advantage of much faster turnaround times for bug fixes and product enhancements.

NEXT: Strategies for leveraging open source.

Several approaches are available to financial organizations wanting to test the viability of open source for their organizations: