Does the open-source development model work for business users?

Carefully choosing between community-supported and enterprise versions is key, they say

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Parducci said he uses the paid enterprise versions of most applications so he can get expert support and the most stable code. With Iona, "they take it, they stabilize the releases, they package it together and put support around it," he said. "It's the same basic code as the community version with support and stabilization. It's working out well for us."

Parducci said he looks at whether a prospective open-source vendor is trying to upsell to a proprietary version of its product or whether a proprietary version is needed to maintain full functionality with other products. "To me, that really becomes a red flag," he said. "Are they supporting the open-source stuff just to sell me up to the other side?" Working with most open-source vendors has been satisfactory, he said, but there is room for improvement, particularly among the smaller vendors. Such vendors need to ensure "timely feedback and improved communities" so that business users can get the help they require, he said. "I think it's still going through the learning and growth phase. People are still figuring out how to staff it."

Enterprise versions worth the cost

Justin King, a systems administrator for the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said he's found that community versions of open-source applications are adequate for his needs, but that buying enterprise versions save a lot of time in using many products because they are more developed and include useful administrative features. King said he uses open-source applications from Red Hat, Web infrastructure management vendor Hyperic Inc. and others. "In the enterprise versions, in most cases, the main thing is stability," he said. "You can live without having certain [new and improved] features. The absolutely most critical thing is uptime and stability."

"The best model to look at is Red Hat," King said. "They've got [the community supported] Fedora [version of Linux] and it changes frequently. Then there's Red Hat Enterprise Linux that's stable and supported [for enterprise users]. That's the correct model of enterprise open source as far as I'm concerned."

For mission-critical business users, "nobody in their right mind is going to rely on something" that doesn't have adequate support and stable releases, King continued. "They'll go with supported versions if it exists to run their business. At the end of the day, if something's broken and nobody on-site can figure it out ... it's cheaper to call the support guy and choke him until he figures it out."

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