Uptake of open source by corporates has been slow. Both sides have good reasons for their actions and beliefs, and this article seeks to provide clarity around the debate.
Gartner expects 15% of the global 2000 companies to invest in open source development by 2010, so there is no doubt we will see this technology being rolled out more and more.
Development in the telecommunications industry has traditionally been based on time division multiple access (TDMA), a proprietary technology. However, with the advent of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, large multinationals like Siemens have committed to more open technologies, and some development companies are now providing free source code for voice applications.
There are a number of benefits to opting for the open source route. Firstly, the customer is not required to pay licence fees. This represents a significant saving, as the requirement to renew licences annually becomes expensive over the lifetime of the software.
Secondly, software upgrades are not dictated to the customer. The traditional practice of regimented upgrades, which typically occurs at least once a year, is renowned for negatively impacting productivity within organisations. Open source provides the freedom to upgrade at the customer’s convenience.
Another benefit is that the customer has an unrestricted choice of hardware platform, as open source software will run on most servers. Open source software is also fully compatible with open standards such as Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), the new protocol for VoIP. This means customers can use telephone instruments from different vendors without difficulty.
Furthermore, customers using open source software are not locked in to service level agreements for support. If dissatisfied, the customer can easily go elsewhere.
On the risk side of the coin, product maintenance is not available with open source, as the product is not maintained once it has been developed. As everyone in the ICT industry knows, there are always bugs in any software system. With open source, more effort is required to fix the bugs, so the customer needs to have the appropriate skills and resources in-house.
In line with this, open source customers also lack access to external assistance of any kind. Once they have downloaded the software for free, there is little or no support should they run into trouble or wish to upgrade.
Another challenge is that the customer remains responsible for the security of the system, which is normally handled on the data network. With open source, the customer still needs protection for its VoIP technology.
Also, despite being free to download, open source software is costly to operate and manage. This is because the user organisation needs to have all the skills in-house to do everything itself. This is a vastly different environment to having reliable service delivery from a traditional supplier.
Having weighed up these factors, Siemens has elected to deploy open standards on its systems, rather than open source. This enables us to guarantee maintenance and support for our customers in the long term while providing the flexibility and superior integration of open systems.
In the final analysis, I would advise companies to use open standards across the environment and use open source for individual applications which are easy to manage. Although it may not be the right route for corporates to follow, open source has plenty to offer smaller companies with the right in-house expertise.
Fred Maurus, divisional manager: Technology Management and Marketing, Siemens Enterprise Communications
For more information contact Fred Maurus, Siemens Enterprise Communications, +27 (0)11 545 3557.