Companies who use Open Source software for mission critical applications are taking tremendous and unnecessary risks. So says Gary Tyreman, CEO of Univa, a Workload Automation software company offering products that unify Big Compute and Big Data.

He claims that using Free Open Source Software (FOSS) is particularly dangerous because if something breaks at a critical time, you’re out on a limb and there may be no one to call for help.

And even if there is, he adds, Open Source software, by its very nature, is still in production and therefore unstable.

Challenging the True Cost of Open Source

“'Free' then becomes very expensive,” says Tyreman, especially if you compare it to something like Univa’s Grid Engine.

“We’ve written more than a million lines of code, added features and applied bug fixes to make our product more stable. Open Source software doesn’t work as flawlessly as ours,” he claims. Tyreman then adds that Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of most proprietary software is lower as compared with Open Source, not only because it (allegedly) requires less support and fewer services, but also because there’s less downtime with it.

Hogwash, say Enterprise Open Source software vendors such as Alfresco, MapR, MongoDB and WANdisco.We’ll get to their reasons for such a strong sentiment later.

When challenged, Tyreman concedes that there may be cases when Open Source products might be worth considering. “I’ve used them for personal projects at home, and I’ve even tried them at my own company,” he admits. But he qualifies the second half of his sentence by pointing out that it was for an application which wouldn’t affect his company’s top or bottom lines. Besides, he adds, he has since replaced it with an internally written application anyway.

“You certainly can’t use Open Source for something that’s the lifeblood of the company,” reiterates Tyreman.

He then clarifies that he’s not talking about companies like Facebook with its large team of brilliant engineers. “They have a different way of getting things done than companies like Samsung or Panasonic.”

Tyreman points out that there is evidence to support his claims -- he refers to a survey that uSamp conducted on his company’s behalf. It found that three in four companies who use Open Source experience issues with it: stability, usability, crashes and bugs are among those cited. See infograph below for details.

UNIVA iFOSS Survey Infographic 041213.JPG

Open Source Vendors Speak Out

Open Source evangelist, Matt Asay, who is 10gen’s (the MongoDB company) VP of Strategy, strongly disagrees with Tyreman.

He claims that nearly every large and mid-size company uses Open Source somewhere (he’s willing to bet on 100% -- his bet is based on Gartner’s 2008 finding that Open Source adoption was at 85%) and that its popularity isn’t because it’s free, but because it drives innovation in areas that matter most to Enterprises (Big Data, Cloud, Mobile) and because it is better. Asay points to a survey that Black Duck and North Bridge Venture partners released yesterday. Its results reveal that enterprises believe that Open Source software leads innovation, delivers higher quality and drives growth rather than being just a free or low-cost alternative.

And even if “free” is an initial reason for considering Open Source, it’s not why companies ultimately go (and stay) with it, according to Jeff Potts, Chief Community Officer at Alfresco, a provider of Open Source Enterprise Content Management software. He cites “additional flexibility, lower TCO (which includes support), vendor independence, vendor transparency and the faster pace of innovation enjoyed by community development efforts,” as the real drivers.

Learning Opportunities

David Richards, CEO of WANdisco, which builds Big Data products around Open Source Apache Hadoop (among other things), claims that Open Source absolutely can be the lifeblood of an Enterprise or even human life. He says that some pacemakers are Open Source, that banks are adopting Open Source, and that even the Space Program uses it.

Tomer Shiran, VP of Product Management at Hadoop vendor MapR, disagrees with the notion that proprietary software requires less support than Open Source.

Asay concurs. “SAP ERP, Oracle databases, and any software ever developed require support as well,” he says, adding that that support could, in fact, be even more expensive than Open Source product support.

“No software is perfect and, perhaps just as pertinent, no Enterprise is perfect at implementing software,” says Asay.

Tyreman argues that Univa’s software is pretty damn close to perfect before it is released to customers, which simply isn’t possible with Open Source software because it is still in production and everyone can touch it.

“Consider performing a release upgrade on a customized version of Apache Hadoop,” he says. “It would not only be difficult and expensive; but it could break in production,” he says.

“If that happened with my products, I’d likely be fired; in fact, I should be fired,” says Tyreman.

And while we don’t hear of many disasters with Open Source upgrades, there is the emerging practice of forking which, in cases that it occurs, could prove Tyreman right.

“If you mess around with the core of Open Source, you’re screwing yourself,” says Richards.

But that’s a conversation for another time.