How to continue the growth of open source in the UK

open source

Open source adoption rates are growing globally, with non-propriety code proving to be both efficient and cost-effective for a variety of organizations. Approximately 82 percent of IT decision-makers are more likely to choose a vendor that actively gives back to the open source community, according to a recent report from Red Hat. ­In the UK in particular, much of the reason for this open source drive is down to increased public cloud usage, the growing demand for rapid digital transformation and a greater understanding of open source’s cybersecurity resilience. 

To help continue this open source upsurge in a sustainable manner, organizations utilizing the technology need to be contributing back to the community, to best enable the development of the technology. 

The UK and open source 

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Aiven’s research demonstrates the increased adoption rates of open source technology in recent years within the UK. With 54 percent of businesses currently making extensive use of open source software and 26 percent using it as a fundamental aspect of their IT environment. There is variation however from sector to sector, with 37 percent of financial services heavily relying on open source, compared to only one in eight organizations in the public sector. 

The benefits that open source can bring to an organization that proprietary forms of software cannot -- such as the ease of deployment -- have greatly contributed to this adoption.

However, there are much broader factors also at play, such as the increased growth of public cloud services. In the year of the first lockdowns, UK public cloud services were valued at $12.3 billion, with this valuation predicted to increase to $23.8 billion by 2025, according to Statista. Technologies, like open source, that can integrate effectively with public cloud will continue to benefit from this success.

Moreover, business agility has never been a greater demand of decision-makers. Quick and efficient digital transformation journeys are increasingly being initiated to help businesses meet evolving consumer habits and hybrid working demands. The ready-made code and infrastructure open source offers are some of the most efficient ways for businesses to do just that.

Improved faith in the cybersecurity resilience of open source has also helped to increase adoption. More endpoints due to more contributors were previously viewed as increasing the risk, due to the higher number of vulnerabilities open to exploitation. These historical concerns have been alleviated by the initiatives like the Open Source Security Foundation. Tech leaders including GitHub and IBM have developed industry-wide security standards, combating skepticism in open source’s security capabilities. 

Working in tandem with its ability to meet business challenges is open source’s developer appeal. Aiven’s research found that 90 percent of developers believe open source would be part of the future of their organizations. 69 percent of developers pointed to code transparency as a benefit with 52.5 percent acknowledging reduced vendor lock-in and building their features as key aspects of the open source offering.

Why open source support is a necessity 

Open source is proving to be an attractive free resource for many businesses, with multiple contributors allowing for continuous development. Anyone that requires it can access it free of charge. However, using open source comes with a degree of responsibility to give back and help support its contributors. All aspects of the open source community need to work together to grow and improve repositories for open source to reach its full potential in the UK. 

Stories of open source developers having too many demands being placed on them by businesses that make use of open source programs with no support in return have been frequent in recent months. The Log4J Volunteer dependency resulting in extensive cybersecurity vulnerabilities highlights how this approach has drastic results. Furthermore, the practice is provoking a response from individual developers. The creator of Apache PLC4X threatened to close the program unless its users provided financial aid. 

How to contribute to open source 

There are encouraging signs that the industry at large is starting to realize the necessity of giving back to the open source community. Open UK research discovered that 53 percent of non-tech companies give back to open source projects, compared to 65 percent of all organizations. For open source adoption in the UK to continue its positive trajectory, more needs to be done to combat developer exhaustion and prevent open source programs from ceasing to exist.

Finance is only one of the many ways that organizations can give back to open source. As a result of the Log4J vulnerability, Google recommended an open source maintenance marketplace, for businesses that utilize open source programs to volunteer their own developers' time to work on open source maintenance, minimizing the pressures and workloads placed on open source developers. 

Open source program offices (OSPOs) is proving to be another effective method for supporting open source growth. The dedication of developer teams whose entire focus is contributing to open source for no other reason than to contribute to open source, and providing these teams with adequate support, further aids the upkeep and growth of open source projects. 

The UK is growing increasingly dependent on open source to support developers and power the digital transformation initiatives of organizations. The continuation of it demands open source receives the support it merits. 

Photo Credit: ESB Professional / Shutterstock

Heikki Nousiainen is CTO, Aiven

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