CloudOpen SourceSoftwareWorkspace

What Makes An Open Source Tech Success?

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe’s Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

A great open source project is one that delivers benefits for both the business and the community, says Tom Brewster. Tell us what you’ve done and be in with a chance of winning a Tech Success Award

In March this year, Red Hat became the first billion dollar open source company. It made over $1 billion in revenue in a single fiscal year and proved there was a healthy appetite amongst IT teams for open source software.

Wind back 10 years or more and open source gear was not so well loved. Many were going for proprietary vendors, who promised quality code and solid SLAs, meaning IT didn’t have to worry so much about implementation or maintenance when compared to the open source guys.

But there has been a shift in attitude. Linux is used in data centres across the world now, hence why Red Hat has been so successful, and there are plenty of other products causing a stir. Just look at what Android is doing in the mobile space. Given the US government wants to adopt Google’s mobile OS, it’s clear open source is no longer considered too risky. Even now the UK government wants to stop giving so much of its budget to proprietary vendors, although it is yet to come good on a promise to widely adopt open source products.

Opening up

Going open lets organisations benefit from code that has had a thousand eyes on it or more, which should bring stability and security benefits, at least that’s the theory. It also allows them to tinker with code, tailoring it to their own needs, before giving something back to the community. Open source projects are also traditionally far cheaper.

But committing to open source is not per se a positive thing. For a successful open source-based project, organisations need to look at a variety of factors. Ensuring you have the manpower and expertise to use open source kit and develop it is the first step, says Ian Osborne, project director at industry body Intellect, and a partner in TechWeekEurope’s Tech Success Awards.

“Most IT shops will have some people who pride themselves on being programmers,” he tells TechWeekEurope. “If you’re going to put something at the heart of your datacentre or for orchestrating a cloud service that does matter, and you need to understand how to make it work and how to make it migrate. You’re paying for it one way or another.”

What’s key is looking at where open source can work. To do that, simply comparing and contrasting with other proprietary products, taking into account cost and business benefit, can be a big boon.

“As an IT director, you need to look at how much you can afford to make an open source project work. If you buy a proprietary solution, you spend more money, but it’s the vendor’s problem to make it work,” notes Osborne.

Some companies will be wary of giving back to the open source community too, especially if they want to keep their code modifications a secret. After all, revealing those changes could amount to giving away intellectual property. Such companies will have to find licences that let them keep their coding to themselves.

But when it comes to a successful open source project, we want to see how an organisation discovered an area of the business that needed improving, looked out to the market, used open source and then gave back to the community. That’s the beauty of open source – it’s the IT gift that keeps on giving. And we want to see companies keeping the various open source feedback loops going.

“In an ideal world everyone adds a bit to the capabilities and you get a lot of bright young things keen to address problems,” Osborne adds.

So tell us about something incredible you’ve done, because we’d like to reward to in our Tech Success Awards. The Awards are open till 19 October, and cover several broad categories. Just email us at about a project that has been implemented in the UK, since May 2011, and you could be in the running.

UPDATE: We’ve made it easier to enter.  Fill in a form here!

Think you know everything about open source software? Try our quiz!