Open Source Thriving in Enterprise

According to a new survey from business intelligence (BI) specialist Actuate Corp., open source software (OSS) doesn't simply have a token presence in the enterprise; it has truly arrived. The survey paints a picture of a thriving OSS ecosystem, with an enterprise adoption rate that hovers at nearly 50 percent in the United States, and exceeds 60 percent in France and Germany.

Actuate's findings support those of market watcher Gartner Inc., whose study found that fully 85 percent of respondents (in a sample that included companies in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific and other regions) have adopted OSS technologies. Anecdotal accounts also peg open source adoption rates in the EU as higher than those in the United States.

Not surprisingly, Linux spearheads the enterprise open source push: Nearly half (45.6 percent) of respondents say they've deployed Linux. The Apache Web server -- which has nearly as much brand currency as Linux itself -- is second in Actuate's tally, in use by about 44 percent of respondents.

Other OSS standouts include the Tomcat application server (used by almost 33 percent of adopters), Mozilla's Web browser (27.6 percent), MySQL database (27.2 percent) and the Eclipse IDE (25.8 percent). The PHP scripting language is used by just over one-fifth (21.6 percent) of respondents, and the JBoss application server is used by one-seventh (14.7 percent).

The Actuate survey paints a somewhat unsurprising portrait of the ways OSS is commonly deployed. For example, just over three-quarters (75.6 percent) of respondents say they use OSS to support their application development efforts, while more than half (53.9 percent) use OSS operating system platforms. Elsewhere, nearly half (47.9 percent) use MySQL or other OSS databases, 41 percent use OSS middleware (such as Tomcat, JBoss, Mule or other technologies), and more than a third (35.5 percent) use OSS "personal productivity tools" (including OpenOffice, among others.)

Finally, more than a quarter (26.3. percent) of survey-takers say they tap OSS technologies to power their enterprise reporting or BI efforts.

Respondents cite a range of benefits, primarily OSS' "no cost" licensing model. Fully 60 percent of respondents rated OSS' cost as its most attractive feature, while just over half (50.8 percent) cited its flexibility. "Vendor independence" (cited by 43 percent of respondents), "access to source code" (42.6 percent) and "built on open platform(s)" (40.0 percent) also rated highly.

Intriguingly, nearly one-third (32.6 percent) of respondents lauded OSS because it's "not locked into Microsoft," while -- in a similar vein -- 31.8 percent cited OSS' "standards-based technology" as a strong selling point. Open source proponents like to trumpet both the involvement of the OSS community and the quality of OSS code, which they claim comprise additional selling points. Respondents to the Actuate survey, on the other hand, rate both factors a comparatively low 23.6 percent and 20.6 percent, respectively. Indeed, a still-oblique OSS support story complicates the OSS adoption narrative. Nearly half (48.2 percent) of respondents cited questions about the availability of long-term support as a barrier to OSS adoption, while 43.3 percent singled out the "availability of long-term maintenance" as a similar concern.

Nevertheless, a clear majority (53.8 percent) of respondents feel that OSS' benefits outweigh its drawbacks.

OSS still has some ground to make up in other areas. Just 10.2 percent of respondents said that open source software is a "preferred" option when procuring software; more than a third (37.9 percent) said that it's an "explicitly considered" option. On the other hand, nearly half (43.2 percent) said OSS isn't considered as a procurement option, while 8.7 percent said that their parent organizations actually have policies which prohibit the use of OSS.

A Tale of Two Hemispheres
OSS adoption is greatest in Germany, where nearly two-thirds (63.6 percent) of respondents say they're using open source software. France is another big OSS booster, where 61.6 percent of respondents have adopted open source technologies. Adoption is only 41.1 percent in the United Kingdom.

This coincides to a degree with the experiences of OSS vendors. Vincent Pineau, general manager of the Americas with OSS data integration specialist Talend, said that U.S. companies have been slower -- compared to firms in Germany and other continental European nations -- to warm up to the value of "commercial" or "enterprise-grade" open source. That's a scheme in which a vendor such as Talend provides not just indemnification -- which Pineau said is a must-have in the U.S. market -- but service, support and accelerated development cycles.

"U.S. companies are coming to that right now. My counterpart in Europe has gone past that issue about a year-and-a-half ago. In the European Union, the big companies have already come to that," he says.

Nick Halsey, vice president of marketing and product management with OSS reporting specialist JasperSoft, agreed. "JasperReports was founded in Romania, and iReport -- the graphical design tool for JasperReports -- was started in Italy, so we were strong in Europe for years before the U.S.," he said.

Halsey and other industry players expect that the ongoing economic crisis could lead to a sharp surge in interest in OSS technologies.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.