Enterprises are embracing open-source to avoid vendor lock-in, get better-quality software, and gain access to larger libraries of applications. In return, they may be putting themselves at risk for higher, more complex support costs.
By 2016, 99 percent of all mission-critical software in use by enterprise organizations will include open-source software, Gartner predicted. With such widespread implementation and such vital applications dependent on open-source, it's critical that IT departments address support concerns.
That's because three-quarters of organizations surveyed encountered problems with open-source, according to the 2013 Open Source Software Use survey by Univa, released in April. In fact, 64 percent of respondents said they would pay for support if it would fix their problems.
"I actually would have expected some of those to be bigger, that a higher percentage would say they were having problems because of support and stability," Univa CEO Gary Tyreman said in an interview with Internet Evolution. "When it doesn't work, it has such a huge impact. We expected a higher number would talk about the problems as they occur and the impact to the business. Somehow they seem to have convinced themselves that it's to be expected. People tend to work around them."
As open-source software gets more complex, quality can begin to suffer -- the opposite of proprietary software -- when measured by defect density, or defects per 1,000 lines of software code. According to the 2012 Coverity Scan Open Source Report, released last week:
Proprietary code analyzed had an average defect density of .98 for projects between 500,000 & 1,000,000 lines of code. For projects with more than one million lines of code, defect density decreased to .66, which suggests that proprietary projects generally experience an increase in software quality as they exceed that size. Open source projects with between 500,000 â€“ 1,000,000 lines of code, however, had an average defect density of .44, while that same figure increased to .75 for open source projects with more than one million lines of code, marking a decline in software quality as projects get larger. This discrepancy can be attributed to differing dynamics within open source and proprietary development teams, as well as the point at which these teams implement formalized development testing processes.
Perhaps aware of these statistics -- or based on personal experience -- respondents to the Univa study explained where they were willing to spend for free and open-source software (FOSS) support: 25 percent would pay for improved stability; 22 percent for enterprise-grade support; 20 percent for ease-of-use; 18 percent for extra functionality; 15 percent for bug reports and fixes; 13 percent for an integrated solution; for product upgrades, and predictable lifecycles.
Lines of support
Internally, knowledge management systems (KMS) allow projects to continue along their development paths, even if key employees move on. Collaboration solutions that enable users and developers to share best-practices, tips, and wish lists empower a FOSS solution to mature.
FOSS expertise may be easier to find than those proficient in proprietary or commercial applications. When they researched open-source for the United Kingdom Cabinet Office, Maha Shaikh and Tony Cornford found:
Open source adopters do note that they needed to hire experts and look for support to meet their organisation's ambitions including for control of code and configuration, and taking more direct control of their infrastructure to allow agile innovative responses to changing needs. As reported, the support desired is less than the large scale outsourcing practiced in the current Systems Integrator marketplace. Rather these adopters desire a more targeted and technically focused support that can be delivered by smaller and perhaps more local suppliers.
When it comes to getting support externally, some open-source providers offer these services for a fee. Third-party providers specialize in these services. And many leading FOSS vendors have thriving development communities that meet, in-person and virtually, to share ideas, problems, and solutions, along with formal support programs and help desk staffs.
If FOSS support requires a collaborative effort, however, this could be time-intensive. It certainly may not be as convenient as messaging or calling a help desk.
Given the widespread adoption of open-source and the integral role these important technologies are playing, it's vital for enterprises to address support issues in advance of implementation.
— Alison Diana , ThinkerNet Editor, Internet Evolution