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Open source & Linux

I had the distinct pleasure of talking with Mark Jones, Paul Kangro (Novell), Greg Luck (Wotif), and Matthew Mengerink (PayPal) while recording the The Scoop podcast recently (the show will be posted soon). Our conversation got me thinking about where Open Source and Linux are in terms of enterprise today.

We are seeing major players globally running their core business systems on open source and Linux. PayPal is the poster child for this, delivering reliable and resilient global systems using Red Hat Linux and open source.

One comment Matthew made was about the way his team modify the Linux kernel and other open source code to make the overall system more secure. PayPal’s Linux servers run Red Hat kernels with custom tweaks to provide additional security. Thus he sees a better security capability enabled via open source. However, this is predicated on having really good people – highly skilled people and effective software development process and controls.

I think that Linux and open source have fully proven themselves able to support global enterprises. However, the need for highly skilled resources to implement this effectively remains a limiting factor. In our use of open source at Westfield it was a common problem, we really did need ‘rocket scientists’ and any software developer off the street simply did not cut it.

Several recent conversations with CIOs and senior IT executives demonstrated their lack of trust in Linux and open source and a preference to go with known brands. In one conversation last year a corporate legal counsel asked plaintively “but who would we sue?” in relation to use of open source. Thus there appears to be a gulf between organisations. There are those who are willing to accept the risk of using Linux and open source – and thus achieve significant cost savings. Then there are organisations that will continue to use known brands and fail to achieve those significant cost savings.

But the game changer may be the global financial crisis (GFC). This will drive IT expenditure down and lead many organisations to consider open source, cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS), where previously they would have ignored them.

By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire