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3 ways to benefit from open source infrastructure

Using open source infrastructure can reduce operating costs and streamline upgrades, but it's important to weigh the pros and cons before you jump on the bandwagon.

If you haven't considered open source infrastructure yet, it might be worth a look. Open source software and hardware options can transform your infrastructure into a reliable, agile setup.

Integrating open source offerings with your company's infrastructure is not only possible, but for some data center hardware or data storage use cases, it can be an improvement over closed-source alternatives.

Companies would be far less agile and dependable without options such as Kubernetes, Docker, Apache, Ansible, OpenStack, Linux and Habitat. You only need to head over to a site such as OpenHardware to find downloadable plans for countless projects that you and your IT department can build and use.

Taking advantage of open source infrastructure

The benefits of open source go well beyond the free software. Other open source perks include Agile improvements via upgrades and development; simplified development integration; worldwide community software vetting; readily available hardware plans; and no overhead cost.

For enterprise use cases, the benefits of using open source infrastructure must be significant -- or outweigh closed-source options. Consider these three:

Flexibility and agility. These characteristics are the primary benefits of using open source in your infrastructure. Businesses must be able to change priorities -- and sometimes technology -- at a moment's notice. Because the source code is readily available for both software and hardware, your company's developers can make massive changes to their systems without depending upon a third-party timeline.

With open source options, there are always numerous paths to solving a problem, and you can collaborate with the community. Developers can review code and add significant features without having to depend upon a third-party company to rework the software to bend to your department's needs. This level of agility does not exist or requires significant costs if you're locked into proprietary software.

Rapid deployment. You regularly depend upon technology deployment cycles for patches, upgrades and new features. With proprietary software, you are subject to another company's development, vetting and release cycle.

Using open source means you can have -- and implement -- those patches and upgrades much faster, because there is no board of directors or corporate lawyers to get in the way of immediately releasing an upgrade, patch or feature once its development is complete.

Cost effectiveness. Imagine if your team or department had to pay for a program equal to Kubernetes. This sudden software expense would quickly eat away at your budget. That is not to say switching to a more open infrastructure would be absolutely free, but using open source options significantly reduces your operating costs.

You can even turn to the likes of the Open Compute Project or the Open19 specification to help redesign hardware technology that will efficiently support the growing demands on infrastructure. The goal of these initiatives is to make hardware configurations more modular and streamlined so you can inexpensively scale data center racks to meet growing data processing demands for both on-premises and edge deployments.

Open source infrastructure initiatives make all of their documentation available online so that your department can download specs and setup instructions for free, and there's no service contract required to keep it running in your on-premises data center once it's installed.

Potential drawbacks for open source options

One of the biggest issues with open source infrastructure that companies run into is support. Certainly, with some larger projects, such as Linux, Kubernetes and OpenStack, enterprise-grade support is available through partnerships. With these approved partners, you can set up paid support contracts to run the technology with the functionalities you need.

But some open source software does not include any enterprise-grade support. This means you're on your own when something goes awry. Fortunately, you can turn to numerous groups, online documentation, mailing lists and Google search.

Another open source caveat is orphaned initiatives and software. You may have adopted a particular project for your infrastructure, only to find out a year or so later developers abandoned the project. What can you do when this happens?

Because the infrastructure is open source, you can grab the source code and develop the code in house with your own resources. This is an issue that comes up now and then; projects do die and there's not always a concrete reason.

Fortunately, you can resurrect these dead projects without concern about intellectual property lawyers coming after your company, so long as the source was released under an open license and you develop your software accordingly.

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