Keeping options open
Historically, open source software has had a reputation for being unstable and insecure. Misconceptions and misunderstandings about licensing models and open source development contribute to the confusion and the heat of the debate. But, in recent years, that reputation has been disappearing as Open Source Architecture (OSA) has grown more mature and new technologies have added to its security. As a result, a growing number of users have been adopting OSA as the foundation for their IT systems.
For state and local government agencies, OSA provides a vendor-neutral platform that can support all computing applications, such as open source — where the code can be seen and changed, giving control and flexibility to the consumer — and proprietary software. Unlike proprietary formats, OSA lets government IT purchasers choose among competing applications without getting locked into any one company, fostering competition among multiple vendors of various sizes and capabilities.
OSA is no longer relegated to a few non-critical applications, e-mail and Web servers. It is being used for essential government programs, ranging from online job applications and restaurant inspections to financial systems, geographic information systems (GIS), ethics training and more. E-government initiatives, in which government business transactions are carried out over the Internet, also are pushing government agencies to adopt OSA as customers increasingly expect government to be accessible and convenient.
Bloomington, Ind., began adopting an OSA in 1999 when it needed to replace a file server but was facing internal pressure to hold or cut expenses. By November 2003, all of the city’s servers had been replaced with open source versions, supporting its Oracle database and Financials ERP application, as well as its GIS.
By migrating to an OSA, Bloomington estimates it saved 45 to 80 percent in hardware support and licensing costs, and it improved computing performance and efficiency. Response times have improved, and IT staff no longer face the CPU and memory use issues they once battled daily.
Like Bloomington, many other state and local agencies are starting to turn to OSA because of its flexibility and lower costs. In fact, the World Bank-commissioned report “Open Source Software — Perspectives for Development” released in November 2003, noted the “opportunity for local capacity development” and highlighted many cases where OSA has been used to gain access to a level of IT infrastructure not affordable through the proprietary route. As the open source market continues to mature, outdated systems are retired and agencies seek new ways to deliver services and information to residents, OSA adoption becomes more likely.
The author is national sales director for state and local/education for Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat.