App developers could make better use of open source

Black Duck estimates there are 200,000 open source projects representing more than 4.9 billion lines of code that application developers could make better use of

A provider of tools for accelerating the use of open source in software development estimates conservatively that 10 per cent of development spending is redundant given the open source code already available.

Black Duck Software Inc.'s CEO and president, Timothy Yeaton, said there is an opportunity, especially in tough economic times when IT budgets are slim, to save money and redirect scarce developer resources to other areas of the business. "We see development budgets cut, yet these companies are in markets where they're serving customers, where they have to continue to innovate through the recession," said Yeaton.

Collectively, U.S. companies can realize savings of more than $22 billion a year by reusing open source code in their application development, said Yeaton. There is a definite potential for significant savings on development costs, and companies "may be aware of occasional components of open source that might be useful for certain tasks, but the scope of it might be underestimated dramatically," said Yeaton.

There exist, he said, more than 200,000 open source projects representing more than 4.9 billion lines of code, an investment of two million developer years -- figures derived from Black Duck's own database, called KnowledgeBase, of open source code and associated licence information, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor.

In fact, the 10 per cent estimate is an extremely conservative figure, said Yeaton, who has witnessed a customer, after committing to maximize the use of open source code, save about 88 per cent of development costs. While that individual result does fall at the higher end of the spectrum, Yeaton noted that "50 per cent is definitely achievable."

Jay Lyman, enterprise software analyst with New York-based The 451 Group, agreed that the 10 per cent estimate is conservative because the use of open source in most organizations is typically significantly underestimated, especially among those at the management level. Leadership may conjecture they are using just several open source components, said Lyman, but then "find they have 140 different open source packages in use either in their business or in their products."

The use of open source code in application development is more than just a mere cost-cutting strategy, said Yeaton, choosing instead to characterize the approach as a fundamental change in how customers are building software. "It's really shifted customers' emphasis from 'How do I define a solution from end-to-end?' to 'How can I identify components that I can already use, integrate them, and spend my scarce developer resources on adding my specific business value or drive innovation?'"

The hurdles to re-using open source code stem from a lack of awareness of what's even available and possible, as well as automation and management challenges with incorporating open source components into an application development cycle, said Yeaton.

While individual developers are very familiar with open source, businesses may not possess the mechanisms to help them seek out and incorporate the open source components of value to them, he said, and "vet them for security vulnerabilities, export control requirements, licence compliance, and build them into the development process on a steady state basis."

The "singular focus" of Black Duck's products and services, said Yeaton, is to respond to precisely those issues by providing customers a "much better view" of what's out there and how to manage it.

According to Lyman, processes and policies for automation and management of open source code in the development process is "generally lacking" in the enterprise. Having those tools would certainly be of benefit considering that "less and less, we hear organizations saying 'No open source at all.' That is sounding more and more unreasonable especially with the economy," said Lyman.

Tags application developmentblack duckLinuxopen source

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Kathleen Lau

ComputerWorld Canada

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