Open source grows up

Companies are embracing open-source software because of its quality -- not just cost savings.

Jim Wenner isn't an open-source evangelist -- he's just practical.

Three years ago, the director of IT wasn't looking for the Cadillac of business intelligence software. Wenner only needed to run queries and reports for $4.9 billion convenience-store chain Sheetz Inc. After investigating his options, he chose a relatively new open-source BI suite from Pentaho Corp. over better-known products because the reporting functions met his needs and there were undeniable cost savings.

Of course, the ever-practical Wenner also hedged his bet: "We gave ourselves enough time that if six to nine months down the road we were going down the wrong path, we would be able to replace it with something else," he says.

Two years into the relationship, Sheetz and the open-source software vendor are still together, though there were some "learning curve challenges with developers" that required assistance from the vendor, Wenner says. He's saving about $50,000 annually on software costs alone.

"We're not open-source zealots," Wenner says. "We're just trying to be wise with our dollars and technology decisions."

It's clear that open-source software has moved beyond the zealotry phase. In a recent survey by consulting firm Accenture PLC, 50% of the 300 large organizations polled said they are already fully committed to using open-source software, while another 28% said they're experimenting with it. More than two-thirds (69%) of the respondents said they expect to increase their investments in open source.

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