saving thousands in IT licensing – easily

Posted by | Filed under firm, IT, open source | Jul 28, 2010 | Tags: , | No Comments

One of the biggest blocks in start-up firms today is excessive IT costs. Simply buying hardware and paying licensing fees can set a business back tens of thousands of pounds even before they have officially opened their doors. Big companies also feel the strain; expanding existing infrastructure can cost even more than setting it up in the first place.

Well, the secret not many know when it comes to considering IT is deploying open-source and free software wherever possible. Before we begin, there are a few terms that will be used during this article:

Software License – The agreement you take out with a software company that governs what you can and can’t do with a piece of software.

Open-source – Computer programs that are liberally licensed and have their source code,  freely available.  The open source community of developers from across the globe give their time usually free of charge to complete open source projects.

Free software – Software that conforms to the Free Software Foundation’s posted freedoms.  For more information, visit: http://www.fsf.org/working-together/

Operating system – The computer program that manages and runs all the other applications on your computer. It’s what you see when you first turn on your computer and when you turn it off for example Microsoft Windows.

Proprietary Software – Software that usually costs money and has a restrictive license. For example, again, Microsoft Windows.

For the last fifteen years plus, using proprietary software in the workplace has been the norm. The benefits of using proprietary software  is that software companies have the investment available to create good and usable programs that are useful to businesses. Also, businesses have benefited from direct support and (often falsely assumed) they are able to hold the software company liable in the event that there is an error in the software that affects the performance of the workplace financially.

Licensing Windows for servers can cost as much as £500 per server installation. © ebuyer.com used under fair-use.

However, in today’s world, as IT becomes more fundamental to the success of firms; the age-old practice of licensing proprietary software is loosing favour. Companies are recognising that licensing and down-time from less reliable products such as Microsoft Windows is costing them money and, in some respects, costing them skills; deploying software in this way can breed a culture within system administrators where they would rather buy a product than learn new skills to fix a problem.

Due to lack of knowledge, many managers fail to recognise the ‘silver bullet’ which can offer an alternative to these problems. That ‘silver bullet’ is open-source and free software. By using this kind of software, you completely eliminate licensing fees for the product you have deployed. Because of the less restrictive terms placed on companies, it is also easier to deploy on a mass scale. And there’s more advantages to open-source software.

Open-source programs are usually very secure. This is because anyone can contribute a fix to the source code when a problem is found and updates are provided very quickly.
Support for any problems is usually free and documented very well. Most open-source projects realise that documenting their products freely is very important and a fix can usually be found without resorting to paid support.
If you need to adapt a program for in-house work, you are completely free to take the source code and either out-source the project or change it yourself.

Because of the immaturity of the open-source model it has many rumours surrounding it. The majority of them are false. Here are some of the most common ones:

“You get what you pay for.” – This was a comment made by a Microsoft official when asked about the Debian GNU/Linux operating system compared to their operating system, Windows. What they didn’t realise is that the Debian projectreal term development costs were in excess of  $1.9 billion dollars (in reality it was developed by the open source community completely free of charge).This is not some second rate product – GNU/Linux is used by over 70% of servers and 95% of super-computers.
“Open-source creates niche, hobbyist, software.” – While it is true most open-source software was started as a hobby, most have matured into reliable and dependable platforms and are trusted by many companies around the world to support their needs. Organisations such as Google and the government of France both make huge savings using open-source software.
“If it breaks, you’re screwed.” – This may have been true before companies started seeing open-source’s potential. Now you can get software for free with either paid or free support in case of a problem.
“Administrators of open-source software are rarer and cost more to employ.” – Not so. Many people are trained using open-source software and there is an over-saturation of trained administrators who are competent at using open-source platforms.

The first step to open-source deployment is usually converting from proprietary operating systems; the most common being Microsoft Windows. There is currently a large amount of free operating systems to choose from and all suit different needs. Most are based on GNU/Linux if you are interested.

For most needs using an open source operating system but with paid support seems the sensible option (ie eliminating your licensing costs). Most GNU/Linux operating systems with a commercial sponsor are usually deployable in desktop computer or server environments. If you are interested in researching some options for yourself, here are some of the more common ‘distributions’:

Ubuntu – www.ubuntu.com. Ubuntu is the most popular distribution at the moment and is great for use on desktops or servers. It is free to download and run. Paid support is available from Ubuntu’s parent company, Canonical. www.ubuntu.com/support/services
Red Hat Enterprise Linux – www.redhat.com/rhel/. Red Hat Enterprise Linux is an operating system which you pay and comes with commercial support. Compared to Windows licensing, you get a lot more for your money. If you want a non-costing solution with no commercial support, consider running CentOS (www.centos.org) which is made from the source code of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and, for all intents and purposes, is exactly the same.
Suse Linux Enterprise – www.novell.com/linux. This offers the same deal as Red Hat in which you pay for the operating system and support. Suse sponsors an open-source edition of its operating system called openSUSE – www.opensuse.org/en/.

It isn’t just operating systems that are available as open-source software. For companies that already have existing proprietary infrastructure or need to use proprietary systems, changing to open-source applications can still save money.

I was asked a question the other day whether there was an advantage from switching away from Microsoft Office to the free software equivalent OpenOffice. My response was absolutely. OpenOffice is a fully fledged set of office tools for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, illustrations, mathematical calculation and databasing. It is fully compatible with Microsoft Office file formats and offers functions that Microsoft Office doesn’t include; for example, direct PDF export, a program designed for mathematical processing, extensibility and many more. The best bit of OpenOffice is that it is free to use and deploy – completely replacing costly competitors.

If you are wondering what other pieces of open-source software are available, Wikipedia – which itself is open-source – has a fantastic article that points you in the right direction. You can access this article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_open_source_software_packages.

If you have any other questions relating to open-source software or deployment, then please e-mail Legal Edge by using the ‘Contact Us’ button above or leave a comment.  If you’ve used open source in the workplace, we’d love to hear about your experiences.

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