Vendor-supported open source software unpacked

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The value of vendor-supported open source software was the focus of the panel discussion at ITWeb and Linux Warehouse's Virtual Data Centres Forum, held at Montecasino on Wednesday.

The aim of the discussion was to unpack the vendor-supported open source software phenomenon and detail what opportunities this kind of software creates for virtual data centres.

"Open source is everywhere, especially in data centres. And the real value of vendor-supported open source software is to address some of the potential business risks that were previously not addressed," said Muggie van Staden, MD and CEO of Obsidian.

According to Linux Warehouse MD Jan-Jan van der Vyver, vendors give a company "peace of mind" because they have the technical knowledge and skills to take care of problems for the organisation and ensure they do not happen again. "That level and depth of support is really what you are buying when you choose to go with vendor-supported open source software," Van der Vyver said, adding that the skills that accompany this kind of support are invaluable. "All of these guys have specific training modules and programmes available, which expands the knowledge of your workforce."

This sentiment was shared by all the panellists. "I think one of the most important things is the support. With open source products, the products are typically developed in the community, and what an open source vendor does is take that risk out of the community and supports it in a long-term way," said Sven Lesicnik, MD of LSD Information Technology.

"With community support, you will most likely have to filter through 200 answers to your question, but with vendor support, they give you valuable answers in a quick and efficient way," said Franco Austin, business development manager for application solutions at Dimension Data. Austin equated the value of this support to a roadmap, in that the vendor can guide the business in the right direction.

"Managing a data centre effectively is critical, especially in a virtual environment. In a virtualised environment, using vendor-supported open source products gives you so much leverage where you can refer back to the vendor for advice," said Austin.

Another benefit that was highlighted was the reduced costs associated with vendor-supported open source software. "What enterprise open source vendors do is they make the software enterprise-ready and take the risk out of that model and then provide it to customers running any data centre technologies," said Lesicnik, adding that this is cheaper than going with a normal proprietary software vendor, who has to own the code from start to finish.

For Van der Wyver, using vendor-supported open source software for mission-critical systems is essential; many companies are realising this, and as a result, are moving in this direction. He adds that they are doing so for several reasons, one of which is security. "On those occasions when things go wrong, it is important to have the backing of a vendor with experts who will help to resolve the problem so that the risk to your business significantly decreases," said Van der Vyver. "The power of open source companies is that, if they find a bug and they fix it, they put those findings back into the community so that others can access it," Van Staden added.

The panellists also discussed the pitfalls of vendor lock-in and the resultant costs of migrating to another vendor. "You need to think about what the cost is of getting off a certain technology. With open source, migration is a lot simpler," said Van Staden. Using open source software simplifies the migration from one vendor to another, as there is no real reason to retrain support staff, according to Austin.

Case study

During the forum, Philip Booysen, a technical specialist at FNB, discussed his experiences with vendor-supported open source software while working at the bank.

"FNB thrives on embracing innovation," he said, and as his department focuses on the core IT infrastructure within the bank, they are always looking for better solutions to make banking more efficient. "We believe in the benefits of vendor-supported open source - the reliability, the support, the open architecture and the security," said Booysen.

According to Booysen, his team promotes the further adoption of open source software within the bank, adding that it is important for FNB to train its staff to be competent in handling this kind of software.

"The open source drive at FNB has been phenomenal. Our online banking and mobile banking are all thriving thanks to open source and Linux," said Booysen. Although the bank still has a very heterogeneous environment, combing everything from mainframes to Microsoft, Booysen believes the biggest reason for the success of open source at FNB is that the leaders at the bank fully support this software.

Like the panellists, Booysen stressed that implementing vendor-supported open source software is imperative when dealing with business-critical solutions. "We obviously have quite a few business-critical solutions that make the bank work, and these solutions need a reliable and open architecture," he said. He also echoed the panellists' sentiments about lock-in, mentioning the importance of avoiding vendor lock-in by not relying on a single vendor.

"I believe that every product is unique and that you need to tackle them in different ways. Open source software and Linux gives me the freedom to unleash my creativity in order to design next-level IT, now."

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