There's a thought provoking article by open source guru Bernard Golden over at the CIO blog web site called "Why CIOs Don't Care About Open Source." The title alone is enough to give me pause; and sometimes that's the key to a good article. Get people to stop and think about an issue and start a dialog. Golden identifies some of the reasons why large companies might not see open source is strategic: it's low dollar amount, it's not "analyst approved" or the IT department is busy maintaining and optimizing the last generation of software rather than looking forward to the next.
While these are no doubt valid observations of many overworked CIOs, I think likely is not the case among more innovative companies. We've sold a lot of MySQL to companies where the CIOs have established an open source strategy and are building out an open source stack. In many cases, this was built from bottoms up initiatives by developers themselves who saw that open source enabled them to reduce licensing costs and apply it to headcount or newer projects. In other companies, it's part of a conscious strategic decision to use as much open source software as possible since it gives them better scalability and avoids platform lock-in. The net result is that MySQL customers include companies like Cardinal Health, CNet, Garmin International, H&M, LaFarge, Sabre, Smurfit-Stone, TicketMaster, McGraw-Hill, McClatchy Interactive, NBC, Reuters, Alcatel, Cisco, Juniper Networks, Nokia, Nortel, Sprint, Vodafone, SourceFire, NetQOS, Sage Group, TellMe Networks, WebTrends and hundreds of others.
And if you look at the success of companies like Red Hat or some of the hot start ups like Al Fresco, JasperSoft, SugarCRM, or Zimbra, it's clear that there are CIOs paying attention. You can't close six figure deals without the CIO or at least an IT Director having some awareness about open source. (JasperSoft and SugarCRM both put out press releases in December on their growing momentum with corporate customers.)
As with any new technology there will be companies that adopt to the technology early and some that come to the party late. The economics of open source are staggering though and the sooner companies adopt the technology the faster they reap the rewards. Our customers have reported saving millions of dollars in license fees. And they are only just beginning to expand their deployments.
Golden is a smart cookie and I think he understands better than most people how open source is disrupting the traditional software license model. Golden refers to proprietary software vendors as suffering from the "emperor's new clothes" and being in denial that "no one wants to buy their products." While that's perhaps a bit of poetic license, Golden makes a compelling argument that companies like Oracle have had anemic license growth.
As Golden states in his newsletter :
"In a time of multi-year good economic growth, with no evidence that buyers are unwilling to spend money, it’s time to face reality: these [proprietary] vendors aren’t garnering IT budget dollars.
"A much more likely explanation is that these vendors’ time has slipped into the past. IT organizations are spending, just not with them. In terms of Oracle, their big market (databases) is being undermined from below by open source databases...
"I believe 2007 will be the year that mainstream IT organizations finally recognize that open source isn’t a fad or a harmless dalliance, but is front and center a strategic issue that must be addressed."
Golden's got a good perspective on this. I think we will see more CIOs recognize that they can gain more control over their IT spending by looking ahead to open source technology than trying to optimize yesteryear's systems.
So perhaps its time to start focusing on CIOs who are paying attention to open source and the ways they can reap the rewards without getting burned. Check out Bernard's blog as well as the comments. Perhaps readers have some other optinions on all this. Are CIOs paying attention to open source? Should they? Let me know what you think...