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Gartner reports on the status of open source, SaaS

This article appears in the issue June 2008, [Vol 17, Issue 6]

Two months ago, Gartner issued a report on the state of open source software, and the findings indicate the movement is far more established than many of us would have thought.

As Gartner puts it, " ... if you do not think you use it, then you use it; and if you think you do use it, then you use lots more of it than you know." (The report was written by Gartner’s Yefim Natis, George Weiss, Mark Driver, Nicholas Gall, Daniel Sholler and Brian Prentice, and was based on interviews with more than 50 analysts.)

Many users of IT reject the entire notion of open source, the authors say, but few of them realize that there is some open source technology in their computing environments. Few understand the ubiquity of embedded open source software, even in so-called closed-source environments. "Pure" open source products such as Linux, MySQL, JBoss, Eclipse, etc., have a wide adoption rate, and Gartner explains that most closed-source vendors have moved beyond outright rejection of open source code to embedding it into their offerings as part of the product strategies. The report adds that for Web 2.0 and cloud computing software providers, an open source approach is key to their platform technology and their programming environment.

Further findings, directly from the Gartner study, include:

By 2012, more than 90 percent of enterprises will use open source either directly or as embedded components. The Gartner team believes vendors will use open source code synergistically but direct their primary engineering efforts on what is described as "true value-added features and functionality above the ‘commoditized’ layer of open source software." But it sees them using open source as a fundamental building block only as a "last resort."

Further, by 2011, open source will become the primary software for cloud-based (massive data centers connected to the Internet) providers. The Gartner analysts believe there will be a shift by the cloud-based providers to adopt commodity hardware and open source software in order to reduce the cost of services. The report says:

"Only by radically reducing their infrastructure costs can cloud-based providers offer the pricing models (based on radically lower profit margins) necessary to disrupt the incumbent packaged software. Thus, the simple economics of ‘cost of goods sold’ will drive ‘zero software license fee’ open source to be the dominant (more than two-thirds) software infrastructure for cloud-based providers."

Again, by 2012, software as a service (SaaS) will surpass open source as the IT cost-cutting method of choice. Although Gartner believes both open source and SaaS are priced by subscription and low profit margins, SaaS is better positioned because it reduces the requirement for IT technical skills, as opposed to open source solutions, which tend to increase those very same requirements. The report goes on to state:

"The SaaS providers will welcome all open source projects that help them expedite their projects, reduce their costs and improve the quality and agility of their software. The users, however, will be nearly oblivious to whether open source plays any part in the services they are buying from the SaaS providers. More technically adventurous projects will often prefer the direct use of open source and on-premises software development."


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