By David Angradi, Director, Software Defined Data Center Solutions, Logicalis US

If you’re pondering whether or not your organization should turn to forward-thinking, open-source solutions or continue with tried-and-true OEM offerings, you’re not alone.

According to IDC, by 2017, more than 60 percent of enterprises will embrace open source and open APIs as the underpinnings of their cloud integration strategies. The other 40-or-so percent are sticking with OEM-provided solutions.

Since it’s only 10 percentage points off of being split right down the middle, we like to call it The Great Debate. Security versus interoperability. Rigidity versus openness. Progress versus tradition.

Here are some recommendations for things to keep in mind as you weigh either side of the argument.

The question of costs

Open source solutions are free to obtain, so common sense would tell you that they are the less expensive option.

However, we find that’s not really true. While you can get an open source solution for the cost of a mouse click or two, that doesn’t mean it’s ready to go out of the box. Hours spent coding and modifying the solution to fit your business needs rack up time and expense.

By the time the open-source solution is ready for action, many find they’ve spent as much as they would on a OEM offering that’s ready straight out of the box.

Plus, keep in mind:

  • Open source solutions come with little to no support, outside of what you can dig up online—meaning troubleshooting can hurt productivity and increase costs
  • Even with zero software modifications, implementation is usually longer and more involved for open source solutions. “Turnkey” is not the name of the game.

The well-warranted security concerns

The security risks of open-source solutions are not just something old-school engineers made up to scare impressionable young developers.

Just compare the state of a solution’s source code between the two offerings:

  • With OEM solutions, the source code is locked away tightly in some corporate enterprise’s vault, safe from the eyes of hackers and other malcontents
  • With open source solutions, it’s right there on the Internet for anyone to see, download, and exploit

Open-source organizations are smart, and take steps to safeguard their security. But that still doesn’t change the fact that the source code is right there for anyone to view—and potentially find an elephant-sized back door entrance in.

Plus, OEMs are more motivated to focus on security and keep their protections updated against the latest threats. Mostly because they’ll go out of business if they don’t. Open-source groups, who mostly do not operate for profit, don’t share this imperative.
The flexibility misconception

We hear this one all the time: “Open source is more flexible and interoperable, so choose it for agility and innovation.”

The truth is open source is fantastic for agility and innovation… but not because it’s more interoperable or flexible. It’s more modifiable, but we’ll get to that in a second.

OEM solutions are, in fact, often more compatible with other technologies when compared to open source.

Why? It’s simple: the OEMs know how much you value interoperability. So they’re not afraid to dump development money into making sure their latest and greatest solution can integrate smoothly with whatever you’d like.
The pro-bono coalitions that build open source technologies generally don’t care about how attractive their project is to the business needs of the enterprise. You get what you get. The plus side is you can do whatever the heck you want with it.

The upside of open source

All that said, the fact remains: open source technologies can be unbelievable jumping-off points for major breakthroughs.

After all, there has to be some reason 60% of enterprises are embracing them.

Open source is the kind of thing that innovation-hungry developers feast on: transparent, modifiable frameworks that they can shape into whatever your business needs, faster and more efficiently than coding from scratch. It’s a quicker way to get custom-built, innovative solutions.

Plus, open source innovation tends to feed itself. Plugged in to a whole online community of software enthusiasts and tech visionaries, developers can constantly consume new, malleable innovations and transform them into things that are very exciting for your business.

It’s the kind of rapid evolution that OEMs, by their nature, just can’t compete with. If you’re married to an OEM platform and need a new kind of functionality that a mere add-on can’t support, you’re going to have to request it, wait, and pray. And maybe watch an opportunity slip by while you’re at it.

With open source, if you see an opportunity, you tell your developers to start their engines and give yourself a shot at pulling ahead of your competition. Which does make a case for the security risks or possible coding-customization costs being justified.

The good news: You don’t have to pick

Our perspective is that you really need a mixture of OEM and open-source technologies to position yourself for success. In The Great Debate, there’s really no one true answer. Every organization is different.

Similar to common methodologies for building a hybrid approach to cloud, the first step is to assess your business drivers and the available OEM and open-source solutions.

Then take a look at the intersections you find and consider the possibilities:

  • Maybe a combination of OEM-proprietary and open-source-licensed code is better than committing wholly to one or the other.
  • Maybe your organization is exceedingly well positioned to modify an open platform for one need, but much better off buying an out-of-the-box solution in another area
  • Maybe you can avoid a huge capital investment by supplanting it with a smaller development investment
  • Maybe you can get the exact functionality you need from open source while avoiding the bloat of an OEM solution—and the cost
  • Maybe you can use open source for less sensitive applications, but rely on OEM technology for areas where security is tantamount

Every organization will have a different ideal mix. And as always, if you need help sorting through the possibilities, we’re happy to help.