Flawed Survey Tries To Diss Open Source, Fails

Two surveys surfaced last week that paint widely divergent pictures of enterprise adoption of open source. But based on the continued rise of open source in the enterprise, only one is likely correct.

The first comes from Univa, a data center automation company that also offers an open-source version of its Grid Engine product. Univa found that while 76% of enterprises surveyed are using open source, a full 75% experience problems running it in mission-critical workloads.

Given that so many enterprises apparently struggle to use open source successfully, one might wonder why so many persist in doing so. Back in 2008, Gartner found that 85% of enterprises were using open source, but even that high number is surely underreporting actual adoption of open source because, according to Forrester, "developers adopt open source products tactically without the explicit approval of their managers."

Conflicted Much?

Fortunately, Univa doesn't leave us to guess how to resolve this seeming conflict between mass adoption and poor quality. While open source is rarely mentioned on its website, the one page that gets a lot of open source mentions presents a highly conflicted view on open source, like the following customer testimonials:

"...we were finally able to switch our focus away from a malfunctioning [open source] Grid Engine."

"If I went to another company that was using purely an open-source Grid Engine, I would take Univa with me to assure this kind of flexibility and security. I know Univa has my back."

And this product pitch:

"Univa Grid Engine is the next generation product that open source Grid Engine users have been waiting for.

These sorts of statements would be a great way to bash one's competition, but in this case Univa's marketing is designed to bash itself. Or rather, the open-source project upon which it is based. This message carries through in its survey, which found that 64% of enterprises will pay for better quality, which translates to stability (25%) and enterprise-grade support (22%).

"That open-source product we give away? It's not very good! You should pay us instead of using our open-source software" seems to be the message.

Different Survey, Very Different Results

It's a very different message conveyed by the results of Black Duck Software and North Bridge Venture Partners 2013 Future of Open Source survey.  While vendor support was a top-three consideration in 2012 for adopting open source, in 2013 it falls to number 11, well behind competitive functionality, solid security, and better TCO as reasons to use open source.

In fact, this survey finds that "Better Quality Software," which was the fifth-placed reason for using open source in 2011, is now the top reason:

So open source goes from quality nightmare for 75% of enterprisesr in Univa's survey to quality king in Black Duck's survey. What gives?

Reading Between The Lines

Well, vendor motivations may help to sway the kinds of questions asked, and the recipients of the survey itself. I'm not suggesting that either company set out to skew results, but neither data sample is likely purely random.

Still, I'm more inclined to give credence to Black Duck's results, despite it being an open-source management and consulting firm. After all, open source is driving the top-three trends in enterprise computing: Big Data, cloud, and mobile. If enterprises were struggling to make open source work, they wouldn't be using so much of it, and in such business-critical areas.

Which is not to suggest that open source has "won" and all proprietary software is doomed. Indeed, according to a recent Barclays survey of IT executives, a mix of proprietary and open-source software will likely persist for some time:

But let's not kid ourselves: the days of open source failing because of a lack of enterprise support or insufficient quality are well behind us. There is no shortage of quality companies providing support for leading edge open-source software. And there is no shortage of exceptional enterprise-grade open-source software.

The proof? Open source is being adopted in droves. That's really the only number that matters in figuring out whether open source provides high-quality software.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.