The absence of enterprise-grade support for free and open-source software (FOSS) is the single biggest pain point for business customers who are using it.
That’s according to a survey by data-centre automation company Univa, which found 64 per cent of respondents were prepared to pay for supported open-source software.
The survey found 76 per cent of customers are using FOSS while 75 per cent have experienced a problem using it. Univa’s poll drew on responses from 128 companies.
According to the survey, the biggest single problem businesses are encountering with FOSS is a lack of stability – applications crashing or not working properly. Twenty-five per cent gave "stability" as the biggest reason to “pay for better quality". Also on the list was ease of use, extra functionality and bug reports and fixes.
Univa CEO Gary Tyreman said in a statement: “We have always said that users are willing to pay for quality when it comes to open source software, and the results of the survey have confirmed as such.”
Naturally Univa has an angle: its Univa Grid Engine is a commercially supported implementation of the open-source Grid Engine batch-queuing system for distributed resource management (based on the old Sun Microsystems Grid Engine). In December 2010, Oracle – Sun's new owner – put the Grid Engine code on SourceForge and passed responsibility over to the Open Grid Scheduler project. Univa wants to shepherd users of Grid Engine over to its paid-for product.
That said, the lack of a vendor standing behind most open source products has been a long-standing issue. Ironically, the absence of the kinds of support you'd get from companies like Microsoft does not seem to have been a barrier to the use of FOSS in business.
Some companies have tried to spin up stand-alone FOSS support, but we can think of few who have succeeded in the market. SpikeSource made much of providing tested and supported integrations of Linux, Apache, MySQL and Perl/PHP/Python, but the company struggled and its assets were eventually swallowed by Black Duck.
What does seem to have worked is when the distributors of open-source code have supported their own work. For example, today, we have Linux companies maintaining their Linux distros: MySQL is supported by Oracle, and PHP is supported through a packaged distro from Zend - which was co-founded by PHP core contributors.
In other cases, customers have preferred to leave the problem of support to their own in-house techies, enjoying the openness and freedom of the APIs but allowing many of the details to fall through the cracks.
However, this still leaves a gap in the market for corporate types to start flogging support for other FOSS projects that nobody really claims – for example Apache - which are popular and sometimes supported by non-profit corporations, but which do not have any links with a commercial company. ®