Many hands make light work: The secret of open source's success

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Enterprise adoption of open source software has rocketed thanks to a confluence of favourable factors, argues EDB CTO Marc Linster

Open source software is now the de facto choice for most businesses, but it's been a long time coming. We asked Marc Linster, CTO at EDB, a company that provides software and services based on the database PostgreSQL (Postgres) - one of the very earliest open source projects - for his take on the current state of enterprise open source.

For many years, open source software was the domain of academics and hobbyists. What was the tipping point that convinced businesses and public sector organisations to take it seriously?

It's not so much a tipping point but rather a confluence of events, said Linster, addressing Postgres as an example.

"Postgres' growing maturity in terms of scalability, performance and capabilities and the explosion of data that needs to be managed reliably plus the pressure for rapid digital transformation and agility," was one such combination of events, he said.

This pressure for transformation was occurring at a time that the open source ecosystems around well-established projects like Postgres were maturing, with a growing number of case studies showing that software like Postgres "can do the job, can do it well, and in many cases actually work better than the proprietary databases."

The cost savings are significant and well documented - up to 80 per cent when moving from proprietary software to vendor supported open source

Price is another factor of course, with community versions of most open source software licensed for free usage, in monetary terms. But can savings still be realised when using the paid-for services by companies like EDB, or customers simply moving money from one budget to another, software licenses to support. This is obviously a key question, and, said Linster, the case for open source is overwhelming.

"The cost savings are significant and well documented - up to 80 per cent when moving from proprietary software to vendor supported open source," he said.

But while potential savings tend to catch the executive's eye, the real benefits of open source run way deeper, he went on.

"What is less well understood is the rapid innovation, the deployment flexibility, the adoption of open standards and the positive impact on software development practices," Linster said, explaining that there is a correlation between the adoption of open source and the types of agile engineering practices that are key to accelerated digital transformation. Indeed, many of EDB's newer customer are embarking on or are partway through that process.

"We see a common thread with our customers. Many of them are on digital transformation journeys. They are trying to free themselves of the financial and licence constraints associated with closed source products. They want to accelerate innovation, rapidly try new solutions, and be part of a vibrant ecosystem where open source like Python, Django, FlyWheel, Node.js and PostGIS can be used to quickly solve problems."

The rapid iteration and mix'n'match combination enabled by open source is also leading to new opportunities and efficiencies, he went on.

"We are seeing more use of multi-model capabilities, where customers combine geographic information, for example with PostGIS, and documents using JSONB, with Postgres' core relational capabilities. This creates an extremely powerful data platform that obviates the need for many speciality databases."

Considering the central tenet of open source software, the communities, there has always existed a certain tension between the developers who donate their time and expertise in contributing to open source projects and those seeking a return. As open source becomes more professionalised, is it harder to maintain the voluntary nature of the developer community?

Not in the case of Postgres, Linster insisted. "Postgres has done a very good job of combining contributions from individuals, many of them working on their own time, with contributions from enterprises who are invested into Postgres' success, such as EDB, CrunchyData or Microsoft, just to name a few. The structure and processes of the community will continue to enable contributions, aka patches, from individuals and organisations. I don't see any reason that should change."

This article was created in collaboration with EDB.

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