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July 06, 2017
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Trusting Open Source Tools to Drive Innovation

Trust. Reliability. Innovation. Are these the words that first come to mind when you think about open source tools? Or, like many people, is “free” the very first word you think of? If so, maybe there is more to consider. For some, the idea of free software that’s still powerful is the initial attraction. In terms of cost, proprietary systems like SAP, Oracle, and Teradata cannot compete. Just as an example, the annual cost to manage a terabyte of data on SAP HANA costs about $37,000. With an open source data platform, the simple cost of support and subscriptions is a fraction of that.

So, yes, cost containment is one appeal of these tools, but there is a higher value to be found for the modern enterprise in an open source ecosystem. That value is better described by the word “freedom” rather than “free.”

The Constraints of Proprietary Tools

Proprietary technology was once the only option. As a business, you had to choose which proprietary technology you wanted. After making that choice, every move you made as a business was constrained by that choice. First you bought the software, and then you subscribed to customer support. Next, you paid for implementation tools and then upgrades. Extending the functionality usually meant you only get it from your selected vendor. The cash outlay was never-ending, while your options were narrowed—everything you needed had to come from one source. Choosing a proprietary system was a gamble that whatever upgrade or innovations they offered would match the goals of your enterprise.

Now, of course, there is an open source alternative to nearly every proprietary offering. With open source, businesses are freed from the constraints of licensing. Developers may change, tweak, or customize software as they choose. They can integrate with current systems, processes, and software.

The power of open source communities lies in their speed and innovation. No matter how large the company that sells proprietary systems is, they simply don’t possess the engineering prowess or reach of an open source community. In closed systems, there is insufficient engineering muscle to build the connectivity required to put all data in touch with all available devices and technology. The only way this synergy happens is when everybody participates. Open source communities level the playing field, drawing participants from large and small organizations.

Driven by Passion Rather Than Paychecks

Parallels can be drawn between researchers and open source advocates. Advances in the scientific community are driven by peer review. Scientists publish their research for other experts to study, test, and judge. If peers agree with the findings, that adds a stamp of legitimacy to the work. That work is then built on and added to by other researchers. The same system works in the open source community. Code is made public and then reviewed by the community. Peers review the work, test the code, create use cases, and fix flaws whenever they are found.

This level of peer review enhances both the security and reliability of the code produced. Experts, motivated by the work itself, push themselves to find and fix design flaws or security holes. Suppose a proprietary company employs 200 engineers to work on a software upgrade. They may be passionate. They may be committed. But at the end of the day, they still work for a paycheck and are constrained by their employer on what they can and cannot work on. Their workflow is driven by company objectives. Pride in the ultimate work product may not be the overriding factor.

In the open source community, a thousand engineers might be working on the same issue. Participation is motivated by expertise, interest, and a desire to help. It’s this participation that also powers the innovation the open source community is known for. Through the power of shared numbers, innovation happens faster in the community than it could in a proprietary silo.

Open Source Does Not Necessarily Mean DIY

As we’ve said, one of the prime benefits of open source tools is the freedom they offer. Paradoxically, that same freedom hinders many enterprises from using open source tools. Why? Experts in the field acknowledge that open source communities don’t necessarily prioritize the needs of the enterprise. No one in the community is tasked with making your particular enterprise project work. The speed of innovation within open source may occur too fast for the enterprise to respond appropriately. Occasionally, the needs of an enterprise are not reflected in the projects being worked on in the community. This can leave enterprises feeling adrift and unsure where to start.

Early technology adopters have been the most enthusiastic about open source software and its possibilities. However, as more businesses face big data challenges, the tide is shifting. There is a business mainstream that needs the freedom of open source software but remains stalled by the question of where to begin. They should feel relief that open source need not be a DIY project. Most open source software companies offer strategic consulting, and enterprises can call on that experience to help them craft their own big data projects.

Is your business ready to begin your first open source big data journey? Read this white paper to avoid the most common missteps.

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