Expert opinions, TECHNOLOGY

Open Source in the era of sanctions

In connection with the departure of Western vendors in the Russian IT segment the process of replacing currently unavailable solutions is underway. Open Source solutions have become one way to fill in gaps. There is a stereotype that they are free, but it really isn’t so. What is Open Source solutions selling model, in which situations do they overcome commercial solutions, and what are their features and prospects?

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Competencies above all

The development of Open Source products was noticeable even before the introduction of the “big” sanctions. They have progressed around the world at least for the last five years, as a result, serious developments appeared at a good industrial level. Some of them are able to replace commercial products, and sometimes they are even superior. This primarily concerns the field of application development, DevOps, monitoring, DBMS, integration, and infrastructure services.

There is a known misconception that Open Source is free. That’s not the case. Companies that are engaged in Open Source make money on this, just by another way: by subscription, through support, etc. The technology sales model changes, and in practice Open Source may be more expensive than the classic commercial product.

In our practice there was an interesting experience when we provided consulting services to a large bank and found out that for the deployment of a licensed product the bank needs one specialist and 20% of its working time. For support of Open Source you would have to hire five more employees. The bank has made calculation and realized that it was more profitable to buy a classic commercial solution with understandable “roadmap”, understandable support conditions, understandable functionality. This is the main strength of licensed products and the weak side of Open Source.

The use of Open Source solutions requires serious competence. When buying a commercial product, the client usually receives a package of supporting services. With Open Source, everything is different: expertise is needed to adapt product for specific tasks and maintain its performance. And here you will either need to replenish the staff with the appropriate specialists, or to look for external expertize.

That is why Open Source, on the one hand, will really help close gaps due to technological sanctions and withdrawal of Western vendors, on the other hand, it cannot be considered a panacea. Now we see different situations on the market. There are companies that fall under regulatory restrictions and in any case are forced to replace Western solutions for either Russian commercial products or Open Source. Many Russian solutions are based on Open Source, this is a global practice: Open Source is being finalized, and the result is sold as commercial product.

Companies that started implementing the practice earlier, including after 2014 sanctions, received a certain booster and can develop technologies faster. At the same time, the trend for inhouse development is noticeable: customers are trying to keep competence at home, which is required when creating solutions based on Open Source, and also gives some independence and avoids binding to vendor or integrator.

Speaking of the Russian market, it is worth noting that its competence has grown greatly. With the departure of Western vendors, part of the expertize became unavailable, but the trend started not yesterday or a year ago, so the Russian market as a whole is quite strong. We see experts who work no worse than world leaders, many are in the international Open Source communities. Thanks to the presence of this experience transition to Open Source is effective primarily in the most sensitive locations provided by the customer’s business activities and his daily operations.

Barriers to implementation

The same expertize remains the main obstacle to wider adoption of Open Source. These decisions have and will always require the highest competence of the customer or his reliable partner. Such partner should always be within reach, so access to commercial solutions from abroad, including those based on Open Source, is now closed. Sanctions actually prohibit the export of consulting services in the field of technology. However, many public training programs are still available. Expertise has also been accumulated, although there is a shortage of experienced developers, and architects. They were missing before, but now the need has increased.

The second important factor that can slow down the development of Open Source in Russia, is the need for testing, that is, a set of references on successful and failed implementations. The same solution can work well in one case and bad – in another one. The problem is manageable: for example, our company offers for such cases its own program of digital independence. We approach carefully the analysis of the existing technology stack, we offer our vision and experience. We are selecting several technological stacks and are already starting to move on them, working on testing technologies, transfer and migration approaches, which allows you to speed up processes, reducing risks, and the most important thing is to transfer knowledge and expertise directly to the customer.

Open Source or commercial product?

The weaknesses of Open Source is support and lack of transparent “roadmaps” than commercial products have always been good at. In addition, Open Source does not guarantee that you can get specific functionality. Therefore, many so-called forks appeared: the currently available code is separated from the main branch, and then comes an independent development. The commercial product has a different story. There is a manager for product, who examines market needs and implements basic requests of customers. In addition, commercial products have the support that practically guarantees the closure of critical technical problems.

In Open Source, you can count only on available competencies, but no one will vouch for the correction of technical errors. That’s what it’s all about the main risk. Nevertheless, serious products have a large community, which refines the code. So, due to feedback, a “roadmap” appears. It cannot be called fully controlled, but it still gives a certain stability and understanding where the product will move.

To create guaranteed support and an understandable roadmap, there are companies that provide the forks mentioned. It turns out hybrid scheme – take the general part from Open Source, combine with the commercial part, get a hybrid commercial, but also an Open Source product. Such hybrid decisions are almost impossible to block by sanctions tools. This is not only Russian specificity – it is an established practice that helps to reduce the cost.

Technical support services for Open Source products have also become widespread, which relieves service risks and opens access to competence in case of technical problems or the need for consultations.

By Nikolay Molchanov, Director of Technology Consulting Company Mobius Technologies

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