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What free things actually cost

By Patrick Schmidt 

“Your daughter wants a hamster for her birthday, but I can get one for free,“ my wife told me one winter Sunday afternoon. I might not have paid total attention to what she was saying because this Sunday afternoon happened to be the first Sunday in February, and other football fans know what that means.

So, I quickly replied, “Sure, I like free.” However, I had no idea what I was getting into as I was wrapped up in my team scoring another touchdown.

Now, this “free hamster” was not like other free things such as “free delivery,” “free breadsticks,” even “free alterations.” Well, that last one was when people still wore business attire to the office. We don’t see the cost in these items specified, but we know it is buried in there somewhere.

Our “free” hamster was different. It carried several costs after we acquired him from our friends: Hamster cage with wheel, water bottle, and food dish: $58. Exercise ball: $8. Cage bedding: $10. Hamster food: $5. Pretty soon my “free” hamster cost us $81 (plus tax), not to mention the fact that bedding and food are ongoing costs.

What other “free” things have ongoing costs? In my post last month, I mentioned an alternate coverage model pertaining to community open source software (OSS) and its technical support. The software is freely downloadable but, just like the hamster, there are costs after acquisition.

We are not talking about commercial open source software like RedHat Enterprise Linux or SUSE Linux. Here we are referring to OSS packages that rely fundamentally on community support. Some carry famous names like Apache, Docker, Hadoop, or WordPress. Others are less well-known like Atomic OS, CephFS, oVirt, and PuTTY.

Whether we are familiar with these names or not, freely downloadable OSS is impacting the enterprise. Developers using agile models are using OSS to accelerate time to deployment by bypassing lengthy (and expensive) acquisition of commercial software. If there is no established budget, time is of the essence, and OpenJDK will meet your needs, why not deploy it instead of Oracle?

The answer might be support. Community open source software’s greatest strength might just be a great weakness as well. While there is a huge network of exceptionally talented individuals working to support them in the community, there can be barriers to adoption in the modern enterprise.

Speed to resolution can be a major challenge. If OSS is deployed in a production environment and an issue arises, where does support come from? The online community. However, there is no guaranteed time to response or service level from community resources. Waiting and searching means downtime and downtime costs money.

Whether or not OSS is deployed in production, there can still be a support cost. Searching online forums takes time and, unless a developer gets paid exactly $0 per year, there is a cost rarely considered or calculated. Each hour that an employee spends searching is not only an hour paid, but a loss of time that could have been dedicated to more strategic projects.

What if the OSS package selected does not quite meet the development requirements, but a large amount of time has been invested in its deployment? Or, what if a patch that comes from the community does not solve the issue? Testing new packages and patches takes time and, as pointed out above, that time costs money.

None of this information is meant to frighten anyone into avoiding OSS. Quite the contrary. The value it can add to an organization is sometimes enough to “risk” the community support model. However, there is a way to transfer that risk, improve overall service, and provide peace of mind to not only developers, but IT management as well.

IBM, along with strategic partners, offers support on over 225 OSS packages with defined SLAs. In addition, IBM can provide guidance on what OSS packages meet your needs, their installation and configuration, and even diagnose interoperability issues.

Product knowledge and interoperability support are key to OSS’s success. More than 80% of OSS support issues typically stem from either a lack of product knowledge, or something in the environment outside of the package. OSS support from IBM reduces risk and complexity by delivering a wholistic solution that does not focus on a single package, but your entire environment.

We certainly didn’t know much about a hamster before we adopted one. For example, we didn’t know we would need to oil a metal exercise wheel so it didn’t squeak or that a determined and angry hamster could chew through a plastic cage and disappear. He did, but that is a story for another time.

You can find out what you need to know about OSS support from LRS IT Solutions. Fill out the contact form below and one of our specialists will schedule a time to meet with you.

About the author

Patrick Schmidt is a Technology Lifecycle Management Specialist with LRS IT Solutions. For more than 20 years, he has been helping customers get a firm grasp on their asset and contract management with a combination of comprehensive service level analysis and lifecycle management best practices.