Survey: Open source gaining traction in US government

A survey says more than half of all IT decision-makers in the US government have implemented open-source software.

More than half of all US government executives have rolled out open-source software at their agencies, and 71 percent believe their agency can benefit from open-source software, according to a survey.

Fifty-five percent of respondents said their agencies have been involved or are currently involved in an open-source implementation, according to the survey, commissioned by the Federal Open Source Alliance, a group pushing the use of open-source software in government. The alliance is made up of Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Red Hat.

In addition, 29 percent of respondents who haven't adopted open-source software plan to do so in the next six to 12 months, the survey said.

"Open source is really gaining momentum in the federal marketplace," said Cathy Martin, director of public sector initiatives at HP. "It really came out loud and clear here. It was a little stronger than I even anticipated."

The survey of 218 IT decision-makers in the US government found that 88 percent of those in intelligence agencies said that their agencies can benefit from open source. This may not be surprising, considering that the US National Security agency has been supporting a secure Linux project, called Security Enhanced Linux, since 2001.

Ninety percent of the respondents who have implemented open-source software said they believe their agency benefits. The top reasons for embracing open-source software, according to the survey, were the ability to access advanced security capabilities and customize open-source applications, and a trend toward consolidated data centers.

Back-office implementations seem to be where open source is making its gains in the US government, Martin said. "I don't think the drivers are more on the desktop," she said. "I think they're in the data center."

Oddly, security was one of the top reasons among survey respondents who haven't implemented open source. The top reason for not adopting open-source software was organizational reluctance to change from the status quo, according to the survey, which was released Thursday. Another major concern was a lack of consistent standards in open-source products.

More than 97 percent of respondents said the open-source implementations they've been involved with were successful or partially successful. "When you compare that with your general success rate in IT deployments, that's phenomenal," Martin said.

Open source makes sense for federal agencies, added Morris Segal, a software architect who has worked on government contracts for more than 20 years.

Segal, who attended a Red Hat users conference in Washington, DC, this week, is currently working on a project for the US Department of Homeland Security, using Linux and other open-source software, as well as Microsoft software, to create Web portals. The portals need to be able to run software developed using both Microsoft and open-source tools, he said.

Open source is "going to grow everywhere," he said. "It's just makes sense."

One of the main reasons for using open-source software, he said, is because it has traction in the development community. "When you have a proprietary solution, you pretty much are owned by the proprietor," Segal added. "With an open solution, you have lots of choices."

This is the first survey the alliance has done, but it plans to conduct a similar survey annually to track the trends of open-source software in the US government, Martin said.

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