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Open source code: The benefits and the risks

By: Banafa Ahmed


Open source code refers to any program with source code that is freely available for use, modification, or customization by users or developers. Some well-known examples of open source programs include Linux, MySQL, Apache, PHP, Perl, NGINX, and OpenStack.


Open Source


Open source software is the driving force behind today's technology, from Linux, to Apache, to OpenStack. Facebook, Google, Amazon, and many other high-tech giants wouldn't exist without open source programs. Open source software is the enabler of many new trends in tech, including cloud computing, big data, new database tools such as Hadoop and NoSQL, and many mobility applications.


To be considered an open source program by the software industry, certain criteria must be met:

  • The program and the source code must be freely distributed
  • Anyone must be allowed to modify and customize the source code and distribute it for free

With all the perks of using open source software, organizations must also understand the risks associated with this option. The first step in that direction is to have a solid action plan to mitigate potential risks. This plan should include usage policies, a process to resolve any issues, patch management, knowledge base availability, and support.


Benefits of using open source code

  • Cost It's free!
  • Customization: Organizations can modify it to better suit their own needs in an efficient way.
  • No lock-in with one vendor: This saves the organization the trouble of dealing with discontinued products or failed vendors.
  • Active communities: This ensures the continuous improvement and debugging of the source code.
  • Interoperability and auditability: Open source programs are mostly platform-agnostic and can be easily debugged and audited by developers.
  • Ease of scalability and greater flexibility: Open source programs are typically much less resource-intensive, which means organizations have the flexibility to use them with legacy systems. Organizations can specify the provision of resources according to their needs, including how many CPUs, how much memory, and how much storage.
  • Streamlined deployment: With the availability of skilled workers and knowledge bases for open source programs, it's easy to overcome any deployment hurdles.

Risks of using open source code

  • Security: The Heartbleed bug of 2014 is a prime example of the risk of using open source code. The Heartbleed bug is a serious vulnerability in the popular OpenSSL cryptographic software library. Forty percent of websites were impacted by this bug, and while solving it required only a few lines of code, it went unnoticed for many years, exposing financial, social, and government sites to hackers.
  • No warranty, no support Because it's free, open source code offers no warranty or support, which might create a risky situation if there are unskilled staff members administering its use.

To understand why some companies using open source programs fail while others succeed, you need to know that the open source ecosystem is different from other product-based markets. The strength of such companies lie in their processes and expertise, not in the technology itself. Companies like HP succeeded in this ecosystem by taking a free open source program like OpenStack and marketing it with excellent support, training, and expertise. Meanwhile, companies like Nebula failed even when they were selling the same open source software due to a flawed business model.


The winning model

Combining open source programs with a service is a winning model, similar to cloud computing or SaaS. One of the big success factors in such models is the fact that many companies rely on the standardization of open source programs. Some programs are updated in a systematic way by well-known tech companies, such as GitHub and HP, and sold as a combination of open source and proprietary code. The results of this model have generated impressive revenue across the software industry and have an expanding customer base.


Future of open source software

The unparalleled power, adaptability, and efficiency of open source software are undeniable. In the 2015 Future of Open Source Survey, 78 percent of respondents reported that they were running their businesses with open source software, and 66 percent considered open source software before proprietary options. Proprietary software isn't going to disappear—it has its advantages, especially for customers with legacy applications. But the future belongs to open source programs that provide agility, adaptability, and scalability, and are supported by companies through training and expertise at all levels.


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About the author

Banafa AhmedAhmed Banafa


Ahmed Banafa has extensive experience in IT operations and management, as well as a research background in a variety of techniques and analysis of new technology trends. A professor, reviewer, and technical contributor, Ahmed is the recipient of the Distinguished Tenured Staff Award and Certificate of Honor from the City and County of San Francisco.

About the author

Connect with Ahmed:

 Follow me on Twitter @banafaahmed

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