The cost of open source software

Much has been said in our inner open source circles about the cost of open source. But now, people outside the inner circle are understanding the value and costs associated with open source. Open source software bits are generally freely available for download, so the acquisition costs are low. But like any software project (open source or commercial), there are still costs with support, training, and maintenance. A few days ago, Insurance Networking News published this article on “Why Open Source Software Isn’t Exactly Free“. As Joe McKendrick states, the insurance industry “relies on robust, bulletproof software for a range of applications” which also means tying together lots and lots of data. While there’s been buzz around “mash-ups” to deliver a unified view of data mashed together from various sources, the real workhorse behind alot of these applications is dynamic programming languages. Our corporate customers like Credit Suisse and Bank of America have been using dynamic languages like Perl and Python to integrate various applications and databases that store massive amounts of transactional and customer data. Like McKendrick says, these companies and many more, are starting to use the hybrid open source approach. Using open source components, whether Perl and Python, or other parts of the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL), backed by a commercial vendor that provides support, upgrades, and training. So they’re still saving on the upfront licensing costs and leveraging the power of the open source community to get the best in dynamic languages for their mission-critical applications. But as a large enterprise who can’t afford for systems to go down, they invest in commercial backing so they have “a throat to choke”: a company to rely on at any moment, rather than the open source community to lean on without any guarantees. As open source becomes more pervasive in companies (as McKendrick says, “a majority of companies are, to some extent, embracing the LAMP stack”), and savvy IT managers embrace the hybrid approach, we will explore the total cost of ownership of open source in an upcoming white paper. Stay tuned….