Linux

Selling open source with documentation


Recently I read a report on how one IT manager was dealing with the corporate office telling him he had to switch from LAMP to .NET. One of the main reasons corporate gave him was the lack of support for their system. They (corporate) told him if he were to leave there would be no one around who knew their systems.

That got me to thinking. This scenario is very common, and the one commonality that I find is, when the IT department is being asked to switch to proprietary systems, they have no documentation to help their case along. Why do I mention documentation? Well, with proper documentation, there would be no case for switching from open source to proprietary.

Here's a hypothetical situation:

Your department runs nearly every Web need of your company in a LAMP environment. Corporate takes notice of this and, even though the system is running at 100 percent uptime, they inform you they want you to switch to .NET. Why? Because of the copious documentation and support it comes with. At that point you whip out a Harry-Potter-thick binder filled with the complete documentation of every system in the company. This binder includes the network schematics, how-tos on upgrading, all security system documentation...everything.

At that point corporate has no ammo for their argument. On top of the IT "bible" you inform them that every system not created in house has full documentation on its Web site (which you will have printed out and included in the "bible") and that all related support forums have been bookmarked.

Unfortunately this scenario isn't the norm. In most instances when IT departments are using open source solutions, they fail to document. From my perspective, this is a huge mistake. I know of IT admins who do this on purpose for "job security." They know that as long as they are around the systems are safe. Although this might work for some people, for the rest, it's a strategy filled with holes.

So I propose that you open source your systems. What do I mean? Simple:

Create your systems (by "systems" I mean your in-house softwares, your network setups, etc.).

Document your systems.

Open source your system documentation (minus, of course, any security information that could lead to hackers gaining access).

How could you benefit from this? Well, once your systems were open sourced, you could possibly have the eyes of thousands of other IT admins looking at your setup and giving you advice on how to improve it. And once many systems have become open sourced you would have a bevy of documentation offering up solutions for nearly every problem. It would be a network of community-improved solutions complete with community-accepted documentation. Support would be built into the system. You have a problem -- you simply contact the "network" of open sourced IT admins.

I realize this goes against the grain; it's not how we currently think. But it's a smart solution. It's a Vulcan-esque solution where the needs of the many would far outweigh the needs of the one.

Unfortunately this solution has to start somewhere. Who would be willing to be the first to open up their solutions? You? Do you document your solutions? Do you document your solutions well enough to keep corporate from making you change? Do you document your solutions well enough to show to other IT admins? Are you willing to? If it could save your job?

Think about it.

Open source your systems.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

5 comments
Gone Fishing
Gone Fishing

If there is no or little documentation they should ask why. Management should know how everything in the company works. IT or Otherwise. They don't have to be experts to know how something works in general. There are plenty of people they can bring in to check Just my Humble opinion Damm typos Edited Forgot to answer the question Yes I Document almost everything. Even to the point of step-by-step instructions Never know when I may need it. Memory can fool us all(human memory) I feel it is my responsibility to leave the information for others. I may be busy or not around for many reasons.

tony
tony

Well, the company is not large enough to warrant the exorbitant amounts needed to get licenses for proprietary systems. However, there is a big push for documentation as they are realizing the bus factor in the company is very, very low - hovering at 2. The company needs to get the bus factor to > 5 and they'll feel much better. There are some critical process that have a bus factor of 1 - and this is where the emphasis is on documentation! So, for us it is not about job security, but what has the lowest cost!

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Apache install ? It's what you do afterwards with it that needs documenting and no one but us can do it. Figuring out what an undocumented PHP page does, is no more inherrently difficult than a .net one. Nonsensical argument, now if you wanted to press forward based on the number of people who you get who could do it... There again LAMP is not what you'd call a niche skill is it?

mat
mat

I agree. LAMP environment's are probably the most common. Documentation? Learn to google.

manwethegreat
manwethegreat

Ahh...yes "Google is your friend!" Wise words from the man that chiefly got me started learning the LAMP environments (in which I still consider myself quite a novice) But can you imagine the reaction if you told that too a board meeting, or a CEO? I think that would likely be the end of your career at that company. These execs want something they see & know will be there when needed, not something that someone should be able to find if the used the proper search terms o_O I agree with you, that all such documentation for most implementations is probably out there somewhere, but there are always special cases. The old adage "better safe, than sorry" rings true again. Providing such copious notes is indeed a tedious & rather undesirable task (I need to do just this for my church's network, which I largely redesigned), but in the end it will be worth it. And if internet access is unavailable for some reason, in house documentation would become absolutely essential.