Free Open Source Software vs Enterprise Open Source Software


The Coalition for Enterprise Open Source Software in Government (CEOSSG) was established to educate federal officials on the differences between free open source software (FOSS) and enterprise open source software (EOSS).


This will be the first in a series of CEOSSG blog posts providing industry perspectives on how the federal agencies use open source software and suggested best practices on using both FOSS and EOSS. CEOSSG will be especially focused on helping federal IT stakeholders such as federal CIO’s, IT policy makers in the Office of Management and Budget, the General Services Administration and the United States Congress understand the cost and cyber risks of using FOSS in enterprise applications, especially when there are commercial EOSS alternatives available in the federal marketplace.


Gunnar Hellekson, Red Hat’s Director of Project Management, once observed, “It’s especially important to distinguish between open source products, which are maintained and supported by a company, and open source projects, which are maintained by a community.


Unlike proprietary software, open source serves both needs. An enterprise product from an open source vendor is for the commercial “off-the-shelf” requirements, and open source community projects are appropriate for the ‘custom software’ use case.”


FOSS is a critical component to the rapid technological innovations we are seeing around the globe.  Through government initiatives such as we are sensing the growing recognition and acceptance as open source software as the de-facto way forward.  With all of the incredible benefits of FOSS, it is important to remember that there are right and wrong times to use community open source.  When working in a development phase, FOSS can be a catalyst in searching out and recognizing key software attributes.  However, when deploying productions workloads, all enterprises, public or private – need to have a supported product first mentality.


Some of the key benefits of FOSS are the rapid innovation, flexibility, and freedom associated with a moldable technology.  By having source code readily available – just drop in to your neighborhood Git repository – the ability to develop custom code, applications, and platforms has never been easier.  This is crucial in the development phase of the software life cycle.  When a workload begins the phase of moving into test and then production- an enterprise supported software needs to be considered and will be critical to provide the stability and support needed.


A production ready or mission critical workload should be viewed as anything that cannot fail, be vulnerable to security hacks, or be compromised in any way.  If the workload is holding sensitive information, safety/security of persons are in jeopardy if there is failure, or a significant business function cannot be carried out, an enterprise supported software needs to be used.  In a nutshell, EOSS provides the following attributes that are necessary in enterprise applications:

  • Intended for end-users
  • Business or mission critical function
  • Security, scalability and performance are necessities

In the coming weeks and months, CEOSSG members will be blogging on these issues, especially in regard to drilling down on the cost and cyber risks of using FOSS in federal mission critical applications.  CEOSSG looks forward to being part of the dialogue on expanding the use of open source software throughout the government and helping federal agencies leverage OS-related commercial best practices.

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