Using Open Source to Delay Large Investments

Oct 7, 2005

Clinton Begin

To help organizations remain competitive in today's global markets, CIOs and IT directors need to pay close attention to providing relevant business value while containing costs.

One new area for cost savings is the use of open source software (OSS) infrastructure tools to help delay a large investment in packaged solutions.

Over the years, many corporate IT shops have had a bad habit of spending on infrastructure before they have actually had a solution to deploy to it. The truth, however, is that you don't need to purchase a packaged solution to start, or even complete, the most complex and strategically important software projects.

We've all seen the increased coverage of OSS tools for development purposes? If not, perhaps you recall the media coverage of IBM's release of Cloudscape, a fully relational Java database, to the Apache Software Foundation as open source under the name Derby?

Today, in addition to Derby, there are hundreds of OSS infrastructure tools for CIOs to review and choose from. All without the headache that can come with using OSS for development purposes (see side bar).

Explore the Benefits

Most, if not all, organizations can postpone a large investment in off-the-shelf solutions by using OSS tools that mirror packaged software. By changing how you view OSS, you will be likely to make more informed and less-costly decisions when it comes to packaged software.

One of the major benefits of using OSS in this manner is that organizations gain more time to see if the solution works instead of paying a lot of money up-front for license fees. The argument is simple: by using free, OSS (e.g. databases, application and Web servers, operating systems), organizations can develop rich enterprise applications before actually committing to any vendor or product.

Depending on your comfort level with open source, you could choose to switch to a commercial solution after deployment or continue to use the OSS option or, perhaps, a combination of the two. Some CIOs I've talked to find that separating mission critical applications (packaged solutions) from internal applications (OSS) may result in saving the organization hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Making the Right Decision

In addition to delaying the investment there is much to be said about making the right investment when it is time to buy. When spending millions of dollars on a database management system, for example, or on an application server, it is important to be well informed. By using OSS infrastructure tools, you can ensure that you purchase the right solution to meet the business need.

It is also smart to consider the chance of project failure. If the project does go awry and you are using packaged solutions you'll have a great deal of investment tied up in unused infrastructure.

After figuring out your business need, you should naturally be in a stronger bargaining position with product vendors. In fact, OSS might be your invisible friend at the bargaining table: you will arrive knowing exactly what you need from a packaged solution and be in a stronger position based on your experience with OSS.

In addition, your leveraging power only increases if the vendor knows you have been working with OSS.

Taking a new look at OSS tools can change your business perspective. In the end, the benefits of delaying large investments and making the right decision when it is time, is well worth a second glance.

Clinton Begin is a senior software consultant at ThoughtWorks, a global IT consultancy with an exclusive focus on end-to-end, global software development and delivery. He can be reached at


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