The Value—and Potential—of Enterprise Open Source

Digital transformation, competitive pressures, and new technologies are driving adoption.


More than 70 years ago, it was an open and collaborative research environment that gave birth to the telecommunications protocols that became the building blocks of today’s modern internet. Even then, those working on The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) understood that collaboration and transparency are imperative to innovation.

In 2021, the values of collaboration, peer review, and communication remain the cornerstone of the open-source development model that is changing the way our world solves problems. Open source is the innovation engine for the modern software industry.

The third-annual Red Hat State of Enterprise Open Source Report highlights how 1,250 IT leaders in enterprise companies across 13 countries are innovating the open-source way.

Infrastructure Modernization

For the third year in a row, infrastructure modernization remains the top use by IT leaders, with networking being a specific area leveraged by 54 percent of IT leaders compared to just 36 percent two years ago. Proprietary software is quickly being replaced by Linux and other open infrastructure web servers, with 87 percent of survey respondents citing that open source is just as if not more secure.

Application Development

Since Red Hat’s inaugural survey, application development has remained the number-two use by IT leaders. More than half of respondents find open source to offer greater flexibility and security when it comes to forming the foundation of the apps critical to the delivery of revenue-producing services.

While it isn’t surprising that app development remains high on the list, what is noteworthy is that the use of open source in this category has increased by 11 points over the last two years.

Digital Transformation

When the best of the world comes together, rapid advancements happen, and herein lies the open-source advantage. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digital transformation for many enterprises as they worked to maintain innovation while meeting a customer demand that was dynamically different from that of a pre-COVID-19 world. Thus, it is no surprise that 53 percent of respondents cited digital transformation as a top use of open-source software, propelling it to third on this year’s survey.

Just as with application development, open source for digital transformation saw an increase by 11 points over the last two years. This shift of both together demonstrates that the strategic use of open source is the lifeblood of business services.

Containers and Kubernetes

The data from survey respondents shows that the use of containers is likely to continue growing, and Kubernetes foundation is the new wave for app development and key to digital transformation. In fact, in the retail sector alone, 68 percent of IT leaders expect to increase their use of containers over the next 12 months, while IT leaders in healthcare expect to increase container usage by 62 percent.

Benefits of Enterprise Open Source

IT leaders cited these four key benefits of enterprise open source:

  • Higher quality software, 35 percent
  • Access to the latest innovations, 33 percent
  • Better security—in fact, 75 percent of respondents have greater trust in open source due to stringent vetting processes to ensure quality code, 30 percent
  • Ability to safely leverage open-source tech, 30 percent

Perceived Barriers of Enterprise Open Source

Since the inception of Red Hat’s survey, the same four perceived barriers are still creating the most common challenges:

  • Level of support, 42 percent
  • Compatibility, 38 percent
  • Security of the code (dropping from 1st in past years to third this year), 35 percent
  • Lack of internal skills, 35 percent

Often these perceived barriers are less reflective about open-source software itself and more reflective about the use, integration, and self-support of projects using open source. This emphasizes the importance of working with the right solutions partners as well as the need for continued workforce skills development.

The Future of Emerging Technologies

Regarding emerging technologies, the use of enterprise open source significantly outpaces proprietary software over the next two years. Today 55 percent of IT leaders are using open source in edge computing and the IoT, which is projected to reach 72 percent in two years. With artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML), 48 percent are using open source today, with a projected increase to 65 percent in two years.

The power of the enterprise open-source community and the future possibilities that will continue to innovate can be best summarized through the words of Dr. Lisa Costa, Director, C4I & CIO, Special Operations Command, Department of Defense, cited in Red Hat’s report:

“We could not do this alone. This is about partnership—the open-source community is absolutely critical—our other government teammates as well. We want to take advantage of what they’ve already learned, and we want to share what we’ve learned.”

Jay McCall

Jay McCall is an editor and journalist with 20 years of writing experience for B2B IT solution providers. Jay is a cofounder of Managed Services Journal and DevPro Journal.

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Jay McCall

Jay McCall is an editor and journalist with 20 years of writing experience for B2B IT solution providers. Jay is a cofounder of Managed Services Journal and DevPro Journal.