Open Source

CIO Jury: Businesses give open source a reality check

IT bosses wary of hidden costs of moving to Linux…
CIOs are still divided on whether the cost benefits of using open source software in a business IT infrastructure outweigh the risks.

Just this week Unilever said it has ditched a three-year plan to migrate its global IT infrastructure to a Linux platform, citing security issues, support costs and a competitive comeback from proprietary software vendors - though open source will be used in some instances.

silicon.com's 12-strong CIO jury user panel was split almost down the middle when asked if open source is any less attractive as an enterprise IT option than it was two years ago, with seven saying yes and five saying no.

Kirk Downey, CTO at Centrica, welcomed the influence the open source movement has had in forcing a new agenda based on competitiveness and interoperability but said there are still issues around compatibility with installed bases of legacy applications.

"At Centrica, although we have never formally committed to an 'open source' strategy, we continue to assess all possible technologies and investments against the value these can unleash for our business and shareholders. Why wouldn't we consider all possibilities the market has to offer, given parity in commercial criteria?" he asked.

But Ian Cohen, IT director at the Financial Times, said: "Competitive pricing of Unix environments, particularly with the emergence of Fujitsu as a highly credible alternative to Sun, combined with the growing maturity of virtualisation technologies in the Wintel space, is making open source a less attractive proposition for enterprise solutions."

Mark Devine, IT director at accountancy body Acca, said the cost savings through moving to Linux can only really be achieved if you are coming from a high price point to begin with and said re-training, integration, user resistance and support are still barriers to adoption for many organisations.

"Unless the benefits of open source are so significant nobody is going to remember that you saved the company 50 pence if two years later IT becomes a constraint on the company moving forward," he said.

The models for open source and proprietary products may be different but the total costs are not, according to Gavin Whatrup, IT director at Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners.

"IT leaders are probably realising that to really benefit from open source you have to be a part of it, and that takes a significant investment in both time and risk, which respectively we don't have and find hard to justify," he said.

One who has invested time in open source is JP Rangaswami, global CIO at investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, who said open source will continue to be attractive not because of the price but because of the flexibility, adaptability and mobility it provides.

"Free as in freedom, not free as in gratis. Democratised innovation is not an option. It is the only option and it is the only way," he said.

Rob Neil, head of ICT, Ashford Borough Council, said simply that the hype has disappeared and open source is now being looked at in the same way as other enterprise solutions on a more level playing field than two years ago.

Today's CIO Jury was…

Steve Anderson, European IT partner, Davis Langdon
Ian Cohen, IT director, Financial Times
Mark Devine, IT director, ACCA
Kirk Downey, CTO, Centrica
James Findlay, head of ICT, Maritime & Coastguard Agency
John Keeling, director of computer services, John Lewis Partnership
Andrew Leaning, IT director, Dod's Parliamentary Communications
Rob Neil, head of ICT, Ashford Borough Council
Simon Norbury, head of ICT, Westminster City Council
John Odell, IT director, BBA Group
JP Rangaswami, global CIO, DrKW
Gavin Whatrup, IT director, DLKW & Partners

If you are a CIO, IT director or equivalent at a large or small company in the private or public sector and you want to be part of silicon.com's CIO Jury pool, or you know an IT chief who should be, then drop us a line at editorial@silicon.com

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