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A Unique Challenge in Servicing Open Source

posted Oct 19, 2010, 11:51 AM by Tim Carroll   [ updated Mar 29, 2013, 2:29 PM ]
Open source software presents a compelling compromise between vended solutions and in-house development efforts. It reduces or eliminates the cost of software licensing, while offering a functional product for implementation that can be customized and enhanced to fit the needs of a specific organization. By definition, the product code is fully available for modification, so it does not have the configuration or implementation boundaries of a vended application; however, there is an inherent and sometimes explicit responsibility to contribute enhancements and aid in the support of the product as a whole, so the product is not necessarily free or owned by the implementing organization.

Ultimately, open source vendors, communities, and individuals strive to provide and maintain a product that fits the needs of a broad customer base; therefore, organization specific customizations, whether contributed or not, are not typically a priority in supporting the product. In fact, some open source product providers do not allow contributions that create an organization specific feature or branch in the source. This makes organization specific customizations a slippery slope away from community based product support, toward the risk and liability of owning an in-house solution.

This paradigm creates a new challenge in service management, and it calls for a balancing act when pursuing new features and production behaviors. In order to maximize the benefits of adopting open source software products, the implementation and service administration team must work closely with the open source product provider to make design choices that do not deviate too far from the product vision and to be mindful of the impact of implementing new requirements.

Having a starting point and nearly free reign over customization can tempt a team to evolve the source beyond the capacity of the organization to support it.  However, don't forget that when you either can't or don't contribute the enhancements back to the community, then you own it... And that my friend can hold the organization back, as well as hurt the reputation of the open source movement.

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