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Count on me

A vendor provides the support that can't be found in the open source community.

Read time 4min 50sec

One of the biggest misconceptions about open source software (OSS) in the enterprise is that it is software that can be rolled out without the involvement of a vendor. But in reality, in any enterprise software deployment, there will always be someone that needs to play the role that the vendor plays in the commercial software space.

What do I mean when I say there will always need to be a vendor? To put it simply, I believe there will always need to be someone a company can count on to provide the support and services that can't be depended on in the open source community.

Some examples of these services include technical support, product road maps, indemnification, technical certifications for third-party hardware and software, and professional services from certified third-party firms.

Let's look at a few examples of the services and benefits a company might gain from working with a professional OSS software provider, such as Red Hat or Novell, and how enterprise OSS providers help manage risk.

Certifications

One of the primary advantages of working with one of the enterprise OSS providers lies in the fact that it will have formal certification programmes for software and hardware partners, technical professionals and resellers. This helps to immediately and significantly lower the risks of a technology deployment.

A company will know, for example, that its Oracle database and HP server have been put through a certification process with Red Hat or SuSe, meaning it will have no compatibility problems. When a new version of the database or a firmware update for the router is released, a company will know whether it has been certified for the Linux operating system.

A company will also know that the people who support its infrastructure - in-house or at the service provider - have been trained to work with the software that the company is counting on to run mission-critical parts of the business. And the company will also have the peace of mind from knowing that the reseller that is rolling out an open source solution in the company's enterprise has a formal agreement with, and probably some sort of certification from, the vendor that developed the company's software.

Support

To roll out a community-based OSS application or platform, a company will depend on its internal software team as its primary line of support, and the open source community for secondary support. Although the open source community is hardworking, responsive and never seems to sleep, few enterprises are willing to leave the support of mission-critical systems up to the goodwill of a community of volunteer developers.

A company cannot count on the goodwill of people working on an open source project in their spare time.

Muggie van Staden is MD of Obsidian Systems.

But with an enterprise OSS vendor, businesses will have access to the depth of resources they would expect from a proprietary software vendor. In addition to certified resellers and consulting partners for the vendor's products, it will also have extensive online knowledge basis and help-desks of its own to offer.

Product roadmaps

One of the major benefits of proprietary software lies in the fact that the company will usually have access to a formal product roadmap, which will encompass major and minor new releases of the software the business is using.

This helps to reduce risk and ease change management in the enterprise software environment by helping to plan for major version changes.

When choosing between enterprise and community open source, rather than waiting for the community to release ad hoc updates to the software the company is depending on, the open source vendors roadmap will give the company a good idea of the fixes, enhancements and new features the vendor plans to add to the product. It will also know when these are expected to be released.

Open source has a number of well-documented benefits and many of these arise from the fact that open source is developed by a community that improves the software without expecting any direct financial compensation.

But depending on the community alone to develop and support the software that powers a company's technology infrastructure could open the business to a range of risks. Bluntly, a company cannot count on the goodwill of people working on an open source project in their spare time for the support and enhancement of mission-critical systems, without having the security provided by the backing of a respected vendor.

Of course, if a company believes its in-house software development team can configure, deploy, develop, customise and support the OSS as cost-effectively and at the same service levels as it would expect an external vendor to, the company is welcome to count on community software to run its environment and effectively become a vendor itself.

Most internal IT departments, however, will find it hard to compete cost-effectively with the thousands of professionals large major open source providers - such as Red Hat - employ, or to match the deep experience they have in enterprise open source.

Working with a professional OSS provider allows businesses to enjoy the best of both worlds: the low costs, flexibility, innovation and openness of open source software, combined with the peace of mind that comes from working with an enterprise software company with extensive R&D capabilities and a massive support infrastructure.

Muggie van Staden

MD of Obsidian Systems.

Muggie van Staden has been at the helm of open source solutions company Obsidian Systems for 15 years. Leveraging the Linux open source way as a driving force, Van Staden has embedded a culture of innovation, relevance, dedication and collaboration in this niche software house. As an engineer, Van Staden's nature is to solve problems in unique and effective ways. As MD, he has overseen the growth in the company in both services on offer and revenue. Outside of work, Van Staden is a devoted family man and geek at heart.

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