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We don’t need to ask if enterprises are using open source. They are, and we know because we’re helping many of them with their open source journeys. But how do they think about open source, why do they choose it, and what do they intend to do next? Well, those are questions we wanted to pose to IT leaders—so we did. Today we’re excited to share our findings in a first-ever report conducted by Illuminas and sponsored by Red Hat, "The State of Enterprise Open Source."
Open source software has permeated the technology landscape. Even consumers who don’t knowingly interact with open source software products are, in fact, probably using open source software technology in some form when they book a flight, withdraw cash from an ATM, or make a phone call. That’s not news. It’s increasingly hard to discuss computer software without open source computer software being part of the conversation.
But let’s take that as a given. We wanted to dig deeper. Do enterprises view their direct use of open source differently now that it’s become more pervasive in general? Is it just part of the landscape or are they approaching enterprise open source in a more deliberate manner? Are they mostly focused on cutting costs and replacing proprietary software 1:1 or is enterprise open source now seen as more connected to moving the business forward? So we set out to find answers to these questions and more by surveying IT leaders who are influencing technology decisions within their organization.
The results didn’t shock us. We talk to lots of customers, partners, and open source enthusiasts after all. But, collectively, they paint a picture of open source rising to the next level, even as software more broadly is assuming a more central role in how businesses operate and provide value to customers. We’re excited to share our findings in The State of Enterprise Open Source: A Red Hat Report.
Open Source: Strategic to enterprises
The first point we wanted to better understand was whether open source was considered strategic by enterprises. We know it is widely deployed, especially in infrastructure roles. Linux, for example, has largely replaced proprietary Unix. But that’s not the same as whether it is strategic. Businesses need email and calendar systems to operate but no one’s going to mistake them for a secret sauce that will help a company win out over its competition.
But, in the case of enterprise open source, the 950 IT leaders from around the world who took our survey overwhelmingly said it was strategically important to their organization’s overall enterprise infrastructure software strategy. In fact, well more than half—69 percent—said it was very or extremely important and only one percent didn’t think it was important at all.
Given this result, it’s unsurprising that these same IT leaders have ramped up their use of open source and expect this to continue. Most—68 percent—have increased their use of enterprise open source over the past 12 months and more than half—59 percent—expect to continue to do so over the next 12 months. The percentage expecting to decrease their use was in the low single digits.
More than a Unix replacement: Open source and digital transformation
Open source replacing proprietary software has been commonplace for years. Perhaps one of the most familiar examples is switching to a commercial Linux distribution from Unix for lower costs and greater flexibility (such as choice of hardware and vendor). However, enterprise open source today can also take the place of proprietary software for many different purposes from virtualization to message buses to application servers. Open source is also helping to define and shape new approaches to infrastructure from containerization to software-defined-storage and networking.
Lumping all this under the "IT infrastructure modernization" moniker, we found that 53 percent of our respondents are using enterprise open source for this purpose. It’s a bit lower in the UK and a bit higher in Latin America but it’s a fairly consistent pattern worldwide.
However, open source software isn’t just about swapping out old infrastructure for modernized replacements. 42 percent say they’re using it for digital transformation. The term may be a bit loosely defined but it speaks to us as companies remaking themselves in ways that embrace the possibilities of information technology alongside or even instead of traditional factories and other assets rooted in the physical world.
The distinction between modernization and transformation is important because it can represent a distinction between executing business as usual more efficiently and creating new opportunities, new services, and new classes of customer value. Of course, cost reduction can create its own sort of transformation—think of just about any kind of self-service—but there’s still a fundamental difference between a mindset that’s about pinching pennies and one that’s about exploring possibilities.
An engine for innovation
Attributes such as security and the availability of support are important to buyers of enterprise open source; it’s enterprise software as well as open source software after all. But we also found that our survey respondents placed "access to the latest innovations" as a top-three reason for using enterprise open source at 29 percent.
This is significant because it directly speaks to one of the ways in which open source is fundamentally different from proprietary software. Enterprise open source software can be well-supported and more secure and reliable for sure. But the same could be said of software from many proprietary vendors. One of the things that’s unique about open source is the way it enables individuals and organizations to collaborate to achieve common goals with a minimum of structure and other barriers.
Open source software as a development approach is fundamentally different from that used for proprietary software. One of the upshots is that many of the new categories of software are influenced by open source technologies. Artificial intelligence, software-defined infrastructure, and cloud-native platforms are a few examples. In other words, much of the innovation in the software world today is happening with open source. Organizations that depend on software to support their businesses (which is to say most of them) want to be able to tap into that innovation.
There’s a lot more detail in the survey and we encourage you to read the full document, "The State of Enterprise Open Source: A Red Hat Report." At a high level though we think that the report encapsulates a sort of coming of age for software generally and enterprise open source software in particular. It’s a story that’s been playing out in early adopters and innovative companies for a decade or two. But here in 2019, we believe it’s clear that organizations are buying into software as a change agent rather than just a cost center and into enterprise open source as a central element of the software universe rather than something a bit scary lurking at the periphery.
About the author
Gordon Haff is a technology evangelist and has been at Red Hat for more than 10 years. Prior to Red Hat, as an IT industry analyst, Gordon wrote hundreds of research notes, was frequently quoted in publications such as The New York Times on a wide range of IT topics, and advised clients on product and marketing strategies.