How Open Source Software Powers Digital Innovation


Open source has permanently altered how we work and conduct business. Linux, and thousands of other open source projects and open standards, now dominate the software landscape, supporting emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and edge computing. Without open source, the DevOps tooling ecosystem would lack Docker, Kubernetes, service mesh, popular databases, and many CI/CD tools used by DevOps teams daily.

Now, more than ever, companies are searching for ways to meet escalating user demands. The pandemic has amplified this urgency, accelerating existing digital transformation initiatives. Arguably, open source is the engine that now powers the digital innovation required to compete. Leveraging open source could also help check rising cloud costs. With proprietary solutions falling out of favor, many enterprise leaders are adopting open source alternatives for infrastructure modernization and application development.

Red Hat recently released its third annual State of Enterprise Open Source report. The report surveyed 1,250 IT leaders worldwide on their open source adoption and usage patterns. The findings validate what most of us already know — open source is now fundamental to most technology stacks. Without it, most development projects would fall flat in an instant.

Open Source Use Cases
Open source is at the heart of modern software development. According to the report, 90% of enterprise IT leaders are using open source. So, where is open source being applied? Well, 64% of enterprises use open source software for IT infrastructure modernization. The report surmised that this could be due to Linux and open source infrastructure replacing proprietary systems.

The report also found 54% of enterprises use open source for application development. This is no surprise, as engineers routinely adopt open source libraries and packages to construct B2B and user-facing experiences. In a digital-only environment, applications are the lifeblood for many businesses, and open source is critical scaffolding.

The third top use case for enterprise open source is digital transformation, at 53%. This figure has increased by 11 percentage points in the last two years alone. Open source will likely continue to replace non-digital or manual processes with software-based, automated processes.

In the enterprise, open source is used in networking, adopted by 54% of enterprises, databases, at 53% and security, at 52%. Other areas mentioned in the report include big data analytics and cloud management tools.

In recent years, multi-cloud has become a notable trend. The idea is that organizations will seek out multiple cloud vendors to support different use cases. The Red Hat report confirmed that hypothesis, finding that 69% of respondents prefer to use multiple vendors for their cloud. As hybrid, multi-cloud setups profligate, cloud expertise and smart multi-cloud economic practices continue to gain importance.

Containers and K8s
Open source components are the foundation for containers and container management utilities. As reliance on containers grows, so will the dependence on open source technology. The report found just under half of enterprises now use containers in production. An additional 37% also use containers for development-only purposes.

To orchestrate these containers, IT teams have coalesced around Kubernetes. Sixty-six percent of respondents view Kubernetes as very or extremely important. As Kubernetes becomes ubiquitous, growth in container usage is slated to continue — about one in three respondents reported their container usage will increase significantly in the next 12 months.

“Kubernetes has become the de facto standard for Linux container development,” said Michael Hinterland, team lead, ICS cloud & automation and ICS system & middleware, Porsche Informatik.

While Kubernetes is flourishing, there are certainly variances across industries. For example, 62% of financial services and telecommunications respondents adopted containers in production, while other sectors, such as health care and retail, saw a lower adoption of containers in production, at 47% and 50%, respectively. The highly-regulated financial services sector also scored high on Database DevOps, a separate report recently concluded.

Open Source Benefits and Barriers
There are numerous benefits to using enterprise open source software. For one, a commitment to open source brings transparency and collaboration improvements. Respondents also cited higher quality software, access to the latest innovations and improved security as being among the top benefits to adopting open source software.

But open source has its drawbacks, too; 42% of tech leaders reported a lack of support as a top hurdle to enterprise open source adoption. This checks out – community-driven projects don’t typically offer traditional support systems. Without accessible frameworks for learning, creating a Center of Excellence at scale becomes difficult.

Other top barriers to enterprise open source adoption include compatibility, code security and a lack of internal skills. Introducing open source within an enterprise means upskilling the workforce and encouraging secure-by-default settings to avoid costly misconfigurations. It could also mean working with trusted allies that further open source initiatives, the report recommended.

Open Source Fuels Emerging Tech
“Open source has solidified itself as an innovation engine for the software industry,” wrote Paul Cormier, president and CEO, Red Hat.

Indeed, open source is at the heart of most cutting-edge emerging technologies. For example, 55% of respondents report using enterprise open source in edge computing and internet of things (IoT) settings. Simultaneously, 48% of respondents use open source for artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML). Amid open source projects like OpenAI and GPT–3, AI is eating the software world, Forbes reported.

Both categories are slated to increase by nearly 20 percentage points in the next two years, whereas the use of proprietary solutions for AI/ML will decrease. Open source will continue to affect buying decisions, as 83% of IT leaders are more likely to choose a vendor that has contributed to the open source community.

Within a COVID-19-influenced world, “the problems are too big for one person, one company or one organization to solve,” said Cormier. “But it’s in moments like this where open source truly shows its power.”

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