Gartner Open Source Summit Keynote

Just a few quick impressions from some of the sessions at the first day of the 2007 Gartner Open Source Summit.

The opening session was Wednesday afternoon with Mark Driver : Gartner’s Open Source Scenario for 2007: Risks and Rewards for Mainstream IT.

This was the session which led to this Network World article and corresponding Slashdot flame-fest. But both missed what I thought was a perfectly rational set of statements:

  1. that commercial software vendors cannot ignore open source as a disruptive innovation
  2. that commercial software vendors are increasingly incorporating open source in a non-trivial fashion, and
  3. that this trend will continue to deepen over the next four years.

Driver walked through some basic definitions and argued that we’re in a Third-Wave of Open Source reactions from Corporate IT: whereas many people in Enterprise IT departments first reacted to open source with some mixture of indifference and irrational emotion (that is both pro and con), the current phase is one characterized by “realism” – which will lead ultimately to “leverage.”

I suppose one could argue it is because of the company I keep, but I’d argue a large number of commercial enterprises passed realism and have been enjoying leverage for some time – but otherwise I think the model is accurate enough in describing the process many organizations go through in learning about open source.

One interesting point Driver made was that open source tends to create “Investment Protection” where proprietary software creates / ensures Intellectual Property protection. In the open source world, the investment the user or adopting organization makes gets preserved, because there is real vendor independence. In the commercial world there is real protection for the investments of the producing organization.

In addition Driver showed Gartner research which demonstrated that many organizations are using open source in “mission-critical” applications – that the percentage of open source software used in a mission critical application was almost the same as the percentage of internally developed or commercially purchased (non-OSS) software used in mission critical applications.

Driver argued that the adoption prioties are changing as open source moves further into the adoption curve and becomes more maintstream or is adopted b more conservative adopters. Where earlier adopters (“technology aggressive adopters”) focused on open source because it provided flexibility and independence, later adopters will be more focused on cost savings and risk mitigation. (All four motivators are important to both audiences – in Driver’s argument it is just their relative priority which changes).

Driver talked about the possibility of an increasing bifurcation within the open source community between “community class open source” projects versus “business class open source” – differentiated not some much by their features or specific license but by the goals, aims, and cultures of project governance. For conservative adopters whose focus is cost and risk avoidance, community class open source may not be a viable option, whereas for technology aggressive adopters the business class open source may be too slow moving or non-innovative. Additionally, he described the emergence of “gated source” options, which lie somewhere between the open source and proprietary models,

Driver listed four factors enterprises should consider in planning open source adoption:

  • Fitness of Purpose (does the software do what you need it to do, well)
  • Maturity (is the software project well governed, and capable of reliably producing quality?)
  • Your technology adoption profile (is your organization an early, mainstream, or late adopter of new innovations?)
  • Deployment scenario (how will the app be used, in the context of the organization’s mission? Is it mission critical?)

He closed by noting that “ignoring open source is not a viable option” and that the days of “skunk works” adoption are over. Enterprises should be planning adoption strategies, just as they have corporate management strategies around procuring commercial / proprietary / closed source software.

Unfortunately, given the overlap of the Web Innovation and Open Source summits I didn’t get to attend Nikos Drakos‘ session on “Open Source in the Workplace: What it Promises and What it Delivers,” but based on the ppt from the session I think I would have enjoyed it . He covered the growth of open source outside the “infrastructure and development tools” categories – into areas like content management, collaboration, and customer-facing communications. He also went into the leverage of open source collaboration principles in other contexts – perfect lead up to Yochai Benkler’s Keynote on Thursday.