No free lunch - how open source goes away for business

Written by : Tim Vasko | Published on January 18, 2008
Category: TechnEnomics TM

Sun to buy MySQL

The old adage, "you get what you pay for" never has really applied to technology. Sometimes business pays tons of money and gets nothing more than a big tax write off. Sometimes developers are nearly free or actually free (for love of the innovation in an 'open source' spirit) and the returns are astronomical in productive tools and value to the world. It is hard to tell, who or what you'll get - that only comes with experience - at painful price. It's a school I've personally paid dearly to attend (don't try this at home. Unless you hope to get into the tech business - get some help!)

I've found Open Source environment full of value and complexity - and just as much cost as the so called "MS Rich Licensors" of technology. There is example after example of "free" open source platform based systems that take off , and probably more that are poorly used for a client and cause nothing but chaos.

I've had more than one CEO (or CFO) commiserate with me over their tech horror story. Most recently a $50K deep cut that is still to heal because a "friend" created a web site (everybody has a friend " the web site business" sounds like a bad Tom Shane commercial) that is barely operable and held together by bit and bite bailing wire (an open source based build). And this is a BIG company with global presence!

This is like a broken record to me when I hear it - and they are stories that go back to 1999 with the $27mm SkyMall technology debacle, when the then CEO called me to come "see what we've built and tell us how to use it ..." a move that pulled me away from the comforts of my second career, University Professorship, and into this crazy rollercoaster of technology for a try at a third career (third times the charm!). The only thing that seems to change are the numbers and the years ... I even wrote a book BIPED in hopes of helping CEO's understand that - it just ain't that easy.

The untold [because they are just too embarrassing on both sides] stories of the Oracle, IBM's and SAP failures that run into the often tens or hundreds of millions for enterprise software gone wrong abound. Harvard has a couple of case studies (I'm sure that eliminated out of the early days of Siebel Software) that claimed 56% of CRM never goes live or work. Real experiences that end like the one full $8mm spent implementation with an un-named vendor (YEP a big guy - the biggest), by a company in Toronto, who, after 3 years, deemed it a waist and a complete write off.

Of course the clients who don't know what the want or need are a big part in helping these debacles - but that's really the "experts" fault too The "oh and we could do this and this and this..." (knowledge and possibilities grow and abound in those early creative sessions and versions - how do you think versions in software came about?) that often comes when requirements are gathered and releases are developed create an unending cycle of not only scope creep and spending - not to mention mass confusion that ends up in the customer account department or Executive Office with a formal name, "Client Expectation Management".

At CMAEON I developed the BIPED (Business in Process Enterprise Design) 7 Step Process to handle this very challenge in techno - business babble. Now after years of installs following BIPED, our process is cyclical and refined so that both the customers and the developers are in "sync" on what we can do today - and what should wait for tomorrow. And guess what - it not only works, the "platform" behind the scenes is irrelevant - MySql or MS SQL - the only issue is, can it do what it should, and what does the future look like for the businesses model and objectives. That's what the technology confusion on "open source" vs. "Microsoft (usually it's Microsoft as the target)" always seems to miss. Because the true cost isn't the platform, its making that platform perform like it is expected and needed.

We'll Sun's acquisition of MySQL is certainly an smart and interesting move - and it just points to the fact that, no matter how FREE a software platform is, it still comes down to the basics question - "what do we want it to do - specifically - today, and how do we get it to do that ..." I guarantee Sun isn't buying MySQL to offer it for FREE - it's a tool with a heck of a market base of customers now - that will need services and support.

And that's no FREE Lunch.

PS: MS SQL and .Net sure look a whole lot less expensive now - lets see how the tech guys sell against Microsoft now that MySQL is owned by another giant

PPS: Hats off to the MySQl guys - way to go on creating value in the world folks ... congrats!

Tim Vasko

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