Open source suppliers remain sceptical over government plans to ditch expensive, proprietary software and finally embrace the penguin.
The minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, vowed in March that he would “create a level playing field for open source software” as part of his strategy to slash the government’s £20bn annual bill for IT equipment.
A recent BBC Freedom of Information request hinted at just how far the government has to go before open-source technologies are widely adopted by various government departments. Although some are using open source for server management and workspace IT, proprietary vendors such as IBM and Microsoft still rule the roost.
Walli Datoo, product manager at open source software distributor Interactive Ideas, said the BBC figures show there has not been huge uptake of open source even after the Cabinet Office push. But he stressed the jury is still out.
“There could be some existing systems and projects already running proprietary software (judging from the spend on anti-virus software), and until there is a refresh or a new project, we cannot really judge if government is actually using more open source or not,” said Datoo.
A Cabinet Office action plan set for publication later this month will detail exactly how open source will be promoted in Whitehall.
Stuart Mackintosh, who founded open source supplier OpusVL and sits on the Cabinet Office steering committee for open source adoption, warned that government open source cheerleaders will face active as well as passive resistance from some quarters.
“They need to twist arms to make this happen as people with their own agendas will be standing in the way,” he said. “Procurement may be one victim [of the move to open source]. If you look at the cost of procuring proprietary software, it is measured in the billions and is its own ecosystem - that all vanishes with open source.”
Interactive Ideas managing director Mike Trup said he has seen a “steady increase” in government interest, but added that he suspects that this is used as a way to negotiate lower prices from existing proprietary vendors in many cases.
“At present, most interest is still at operating system level,” said Trup. “We feel that the next wave will be connected to the database where fortunes are being spent unnecessarily on proprietary databases with features that are never used.”
In any case, open source adoption in the wider market is now soaring. Gartner recently forecast that open source will account for more than 30 per cent of businesses’ software assets within the next 18 months, up from less than 10 per cent just five years ago.
Mackintosh said mainstream IT resellers who do not build open source into their offerings will miss out.
“They need to re-skill and understand the economics of open source,” he said. “It is a different model as it is about understanding how to solve a problem and providing wraparound services. There is little or no money in the purveying of it but the opportunity for margin is good if value is delivered - far better than proprietary.”
Trup agreed with this assessment. “Margins from the major proprietary vendors are almost non-existent, and more and more accounts are being dealt with directly,” he said.
“With open source, it is a subscription model, giving huge residual incomes at decent margins, and there is often a requirement for re-skilling of administrators and users, creating a huge services opportunity.”
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