The board may be reluctant to move away from a big, branded, closed source solution. But the fact is, Open Source Software can now do the same for less.

Management of IT Strategy Costs 01

The Open v Closed Source debate is firmly established. I’m firmly of the opinion that everybody should adopt open wherever appropriate and here’s why:

  1. Open Source Software (OSS) has permeated all avenues of the commercial software market and, these days, what you can do with Closed Source Software you can do with OSS as well.
  2. A technical strategy is a direction of travel for a business entity to take. It’s not about making an early commitment – with substantial early investment – to specific technologies, simply the commitment to progress.

If both of these statements are correct, as I think they are, why do so many IT strategies still involve huge amounts of early expenditure?

Surely there’s no need any more.

Easier and faster to deploy

In the current technical landscape containing such wonders as elastic computing, managed services, truly distributed SOA and cloud hosting, traditional issues when defining IT projects have disappeared. Systems administration and software development have married together and many organisations have experienced the death of the art of traditional technical operations (a good thing as well, because your lead was always an “artist” but also a single point of failure).

Within the current landscape you can easily deploy and host automatedly deployed software stacks in a variety of cloud, physical or hybrid hosting services, all without the need for refactoring or redevelopment.

All this, and usually at the click of a single button…

More for less

Whilst these capabilities have arrived, IT expenditure hasn’t grown. In fact, IT R&D departments are fast becoming a thing of the past as all this wonderful functionality – thanks to the global development community’s efforts – is now being leveraged by their commercial counterparts.

These commercial counterparts repackage and resell services, offer support and development services to ensure that their customers feel comfortable in adopting OSS. Managed Service Providers today provide the integration expertise businesses need to bring disparate software together as an enterprise system, and offer huge amounts of power at better rates than we have ever seen before.

The secret behind the closed source loop

With all of this new functionality, you would think Closed Source would be in trouble. But it isn’t and that is primarily down to a single important concept: brand familiarity.

Organisations pay huge amounts of money for nothing more than a name and the idea that a supplier is more intelligent and more reliable than the people who wrote the software in the first place.

Yes, that’s right, the brand that organisations are paying so much money for is effectively wrapping and selling you the same technology used by their OSS counterparts.

They’re clever, but deceptive.

The Apples, Microsofts and VMWares of the world are simply selling closed source software and platforms which either wrap around or offer equivalent functionality to open source counterparts and, at the the same time, often reduce interoperability. This doesn’t sound like a technical development to me.

Think about it: it is no coincidence that the internet revolution and open source revolutions really kicked off at roughly the same time. In other words, technical intelligence has improved thanks to global development communities, not as a result of “business computing”.

This is all very nice, but how can we can we sell OSS and the idea of technical strategy mentioned at the start to the board?

The chances are, the non-technical members of your board are attached to the brands they recognise and would resist the idea of breaking established patterns for deployment with their current closed source suppliers. This is one of the primary reasons OSS hasn’t completely taken over the closed source software industry in key sectors (OS, virtualisation and enterprise storage being examples).

However, when undertaking new strategic developments the initial costs associated with developing proof of concepts and initial prototyping can be reduced to almost nothing by taking advantage of the develop-once, deploy-to-many paradigm that is now maturing within the DevOps space. By offering the ability to develop low-cost prototypes for strategic change and new developments, you can all but zero the risk to ney-sayers at the board level who would sacrifice innovation for fiscal security.

By embracing the freedom of open source, strategies can be easily developed and assessed for viability. Once this strategic proof of concept is accepted these can be finalised and deployed easily – without extensive re-development – using closed source counterparts or by leveraging OSS on preferred corporate platforms.

The gut reaction of your board may be a reluctance to move away from big, branded, closed source software. But if your elevator pitch is how Open Source Software can often do the same for less, maybe this will get their attention.

OSS might not have taken hold of the whole market (yet), but it’s already offering us the ability to drive innovation without risk. In my experience, innovation without risk is generally an easy sell to any management team.


  • Strategic and technical changes require buy-in from all levels of management.
  • This may be a difficult sell where current business and financial agreements prohibit innovation.
  • The DevOps world is moving fast to standardise deployment across heterogeneous target platforms.
  • The net result of this is the ability to develop against different platforms to those that are used in the production environment(s) with mitigated risk.
  • All of this is the result of the open source development model, that has provided more innovation over the last 25 years than any other technological development.
  • Risk free, businesses can now trial innovative strategic development by leveraging OSS and joining the revolution that has progressed the technical landscape so much.