Archive | November 2013

Making the Case for Open Source at Work

220px-NetworkOperationsBasing your new project on open source comes with a host of benefits, and a few risks. The risks are rarely, if ever, technical, but can often be political. When you choose to start a project based on open source tools, as opposed to proprietary solutions that come with a phone number to call when there is trouble, you are telling the company that you are competent enough to be the only support they need. Of course, with open source, you have the support of thousands behind you, but that can be difficult to convince senior management of. You will run into some road blocks, here’s how to avoid them and keep the project moving.

Most oppositions to open source solutions are based on fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of being first, and most important, fear of sticking their neck out. The best way to overcome this fear is to point out that your group is not going to be the first ones to implement this setup. I often do research on publicly available infrastructure information about Wikipedia, Mozilla, Google, and Facebook, all of which are major consumers of and contributors to open source. It can be difficult to compare your organization with these, but regardless of size, the basic principles still apply. Being involved with local user groups where you can get in touch with others in your field working locally can also be a great motivator, you can convey that you know others in the area personally that are using open source in a similar way.

After explaining that we are not blazing a new trail, my next stop is to explain how the open source community puts the control of the project back in our hands. Our data remains our data, free from the traps and lock-ins of proprietary solutions. Once the project is moved outside of a particular vendors sphere of influence, and built on repeatable standards, the company is free to move to whichever vendor provides the best price for their service. Occasionally it makes sense for a company to outsource a particular function, but if the function in question is core to the business, the company should own it. Own it in full, from the source to the implementation, and in that ownership comes freedom and security.

IT organizations in large companies often have long running relationships with vendors, third-party companies that "add value" to your purchase in the form of advice, consulting, and discounts. It is in the vendors best interest to keep your company purchasing licenses from the vendors partners, therefore they will balk at the mention of using an unsupported, open source solution. I actually had one laugh at me when I mentioned we were planning on running a new application on CentOS. "Good luck with that." He said. These vendors often have the trust of the IT management, so it may be best to keep them out of the discussion until a conclusion has been reached, and bring them in as one of the last steps for hardware acquisition, if necessary.

It has been my experience so far that the benefits of owning the solution far outweigh the risk of relying on yourself to implement it. In fact, self-reliance breeds more invested, knowledgeable, and competent employees, which in turn makes the entire company stronger.

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