Open Source's People Problem

Projects are multiplying, yet a shortage of in-house skills could slow them down.

Mike Miller, director of security at Media General, is a big fan of open-source tools, particularly for use in security. "I joke that it's because I'm cheap," he says. "But the fact is, there are solid open-source security products that have been around a long time."

The independent, publicly owned communications company in Richmond, Va., migrated to Red Hat Linux several years ago, and it uses a variety of open-source security tools, including the Nessus vulnerability scanner and Snort intrusion-detection software.

But there's a catch: Whereas users can receive training from Red Hat and even become certified in Linux, they're on their own when it comes to the security applications. "It's more a matter of getting to know the application, using it and researching it on the Web," Miller says. He tends to hire internally for his team, and so far all of his people have had to learn on the job. While the basics come pretty quickly, Miller says, the tools are more difficult to master than their commercial counterparts, and it might take a year to become really comfortable with some of them.

Across industries, demand is growing for people with open-source skills because the number of open-source projects is on the rise. In fact, one of the first challenges enterprises face when adopting open-source applications is that they might not have the skills they need in-house. In a survey conducted by Computerworld in March, 56% of the 159 respondents said that they expect their organizations' use of open source to increase in the next six months. In a Computerworld survey last year, 47% of the 143 respondents said they anticipated an increase. More than half (51%) of this year's respondents also said their use of open source had increased in the previous six months.

In the March survey, 57% of the respondents pointed to a lack of in-house skills as the No. 1 perceived barrier to open-source adoption. Moreover, staff training was cited as the most costly aspect of an open-source software implementation.

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