Selling Your Employer on Open Source

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Whether they’re anti-Windows crusaders or merely love a free-for-all, many have fallen for open source. Its adoption rates continue to climb—and for good reason. Open source is inexpensive, relatively secure and customizable. What’s not to love?


Well, there are those—maybe even your manager—who are enrolled in the school of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and they need you to show them the light. If you want to sell open source to your management, you need to know its benefits and how to answer all the down-and-dirty questions you’ll surely be asked. Your best bet is to present the information in a practical, manager-friendly approach. It wouldn’t hurt to have a few case studies of successful open-source deployments on hand, either.


The Easy Part
Nick Carr, product marketing manager at Red Hat, explained that it is essential to tout open source’s best qualities—and there are plenty. “The important things to articulate to your management would be things like cost savings and some kind of proof points,” he said.


Carr said that when going to bat for open source, there are three specific points to be sure not to forget. “The first would be price performance,” he said. “It’s a matter of value for money, in terms of how much performance you get for what you have to pay. Cost is obviously a big issue. Most people are not going to move to something that’s more expensive.” After all, nothing says, “Sign off on this project” like proof that nice chunk of change will be back in the company’s pocket.


The second point to hash out is the sheer flexibility and choices offered through open source. “You have a level of flexibility and level of negotiating power with your vendor that you’re typically not used to. You can choose to buy hardware from any of the various hardware vendors,” Carr explained. “You can choose a Linux distribution from the number of Linux distributors, but also, you can choose whether you’re going use applications that are either open source or proprietary. Nearly all of the applications that are proprietary are now available for the Linux systems as well. So you can get Oracle, Tivoli, Veritas and BEA—and all of those guys—they’re all available for Linux as well. You also have more control over your vendor. You don’t get locked in to a particular vendor or into a great deal of expense.”


Lastly, Carr said that Linux’s positive security track record can offer peace of mind. You have to take into consideration that the low number of open-source security problems is correlated to a lower amount of users, but still, the numbers don’t lie.


The Hard Part
Now that you’ve provided all of these wonderful open-source character traits, it’s time to propose how to get the project off and running. Carr advises IT professionals to let the decision-makers know that the migration can be made in baby steps. “The cost of entry is extremely low,” he said. “Essentially, for most customers, they can try it for minimal costs. It’s not like they’re making a mainline, expensive, strategic corporate decision that is going to impact them forever. They can start small, which would minimize their risk and minimize their cost and get them to really find out whether this thing can deliver or not.


“Do an easy deployment first, and then figure out where you’re going to go from there. An easy deployment tends to be network management infrastructure, DHCP service, DNS service, firewalls, etc., which you could put in very rapidly with almost no investment at all. You can use a small server, and use free Linux software to do it. Typically, a bigger company can go and buy themselves a support subscription from companies such as Red Hat, which are very rationally priced. Then you can move to the Web infrastructure. Most people know that Apache, an open-source Web server, is the dominant Web server on the Internet. Once people start looking, they realize that not only is it cost-effective, but that it works and it’s reliable and they don’t have the same security problems that they’re used to.”


Obviously, there will be furrowed brows from your management. There will be questions, and you may have to revise your approach more than once. But Carr explained that doing your homework ahead of time can help you squash your manager’s uncertainties. “The way I’d counter (doubts) is, I would say to look at the adoption rates of Linux that you see out there today,” he said. “Either look at the Gartner reports or the IDC reports—you see the really huge growth rates that are going on in the Linux space today. So, if they weren’t making oney, or proving to be successful, those growth curves simply wouldn’t be that shape. They’d be failing, they’d be dropping off. Look at the bigger picture of the huge adoption—this is people who have already gone through that process and obviously have been successful. That tends to be the kind of spin that I would put around it.”


Give It a Go
You wouldn’t buy a car without test-driving it, right? That’s why open source’s flexibility on how far you do or don’t dive in right away is so appealing. “We want customers to go out and try it,” Carr explained. “We have—not just Red Hat, but the other distributions as well—a free side of the whole thing. We provide an out-the-door project where people can go and download everything completely for free, and they can literally do anything they want with it. It gives people a really good opportunity to go out and kick the tires, and that’s exactly what they do. In general, what we find is that (these) customers are really successful. They discover that they do indeed save costs and improve security. It gets deployed without having to do huge amounts of training or additional amounts of complexities in that area.”


Do you your research on both open source and the needs of your organization. You may be surprised at what you come up with. A lot of good, solid facts, coupled with you powers of persuasion, can help you guide your employer—without him or her kicking and screaming—into the world of open source.


–Elizabeth Perveiler,

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