I’m not much of an economist. I understand income and expenses, I understand more or less how the stock market works from time to time, but I’m no economist. I’ve been in the hi-tech industry since early 1997, which means, that I’ve seen this world being elevated to the level of godly hood, buried alive with the explosion of the dot.boom era, only to re-invent itself as a highly competitive telecom’s industry and the “Network is the Computer” manner of thinking.
About 2 weeks ago, a man I truely admire had written a post entitled: Economic Meltdown – Friend or Foe of Open Source? (written by Danny Windham, CEO of Digium). Danny talks about the various aspects of companies cutting down on their IT budgets and reversion to Open Source technologies, as a means to hedge needed cash. As I witnessed the Dot.Boom explosion of 2001, I can honestly say that 2001, at least as far as I can say, was the year that Open Source technologies had truly assimilated to the normal business practice of companies. Even beyond that, companies which were not based on Open Source and Linux/Unix based technologies were clearly not a valid option for investors.
One of the urban legends talks about Hotmail wishing to acquire an Israeli company called Commtouch, back then, a webmail company. Commtouch was purely based on Windows NT technologies back then, and while the business track of the negotiations were going fine, the deal collapsed as the technical sides, of a back then BSD based Hotmail, basically negated the deal. Now, I have no idea if the story is true or not, again, this is an urban myth, however, I believe myths are usually based on some portion of the truth – at least to an extent (even a small one).
While the adaptation of Open Source technologies is a must for companies, in order to survive the troubled waters of these time, it is highly dependant on the solution providers, consultants and IT outsourcing companies. In Israel, for example, it is very much a customary to hire outsourced IT assistance, on a part time basis, allowing you to cut your IT costs. When bringing in IT assistance, you’re not only bringing in IT assistance, you also bring in IT governance and IT policies – as an outsourced IT person will usually operate under the terms he had learned in his company. If his company is a M$ oriented company, no matter how Open Source will be crucial to the business, M$ will still rule the domain in that area. I believe that the first thing that needs to happen is for the consulting and IT outsourcing companies to realize that they need to change, first for their customers, then for themselves. If the small start-up companies and established companies will start falling, the consultants will simply dry out of work.
It is our responsibility as IT/Telecom/Development/Architecture/Design consultants to explain the aspects of using Open Source, assimilating it, integrating it, both the pros and the cons and then, assist our customers in doing so successfully – this is the only way to go.
For example, let us take examine the following scenario – a telephony service provider. Our telephony service provider is based on Asterisk as the switching environment, a purely M$ base for all the billing, web front-ends, databases, development and so on. Their entire IT infrastructure is fully owned by them, all running with ESX servers and other proprietary technologies. This company will be required to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, for support purposes (and the year is coming close to an end), their expansion is highly dependant on 3rd parties and while they are self sufficient on the IT side, they are purely dependant on the technology side. Now, imagine that this company would have had their entire back-end based on Open Source technologies, let’s imagine PostgreSQL and Ruby on Rails as the web frame work, how much money will that save per year? now, let’s remove ESX out of the equation… let’s also remove non-Open storage solutions and replace those with CoRAID or something similar, we’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars on an annual basis. Radical? – YES! But drastic times call for drastic measures, and when drastic measures are required, Radical solutions are a must.