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Stretching 2009 Budgets Using Open Source

Hybrid software development is producing results

With a global recession looming, software development managers are being asked to slash resource budgets in 2009 while maintaining schedules. When you need to deliver more features with fewer coding resources, there is only one answer: hybrid development. Hybrid software development involves the combination of internally developed code with external code from vendors, partners, and, especially, the open source community.

Stretching the Budget, Improving Productivity
In this new era of software development, companies will need to rely on development processes and procedures that institutionalize best practices around the integration of internal and external code. This core competency will become one of the ways that world-class software development teams attain competitive advantage. Excellence in managing hybrid development will flow straight to the bottom line, enabling development teams to deliver new applications and features with fewer resources.

It is hard to imagine that anyone would start a project in 2009 and plan to write it entirely from scratch. There are freely available open source databases, kernels, stacks, report generators, XML parsers, utilities, tools, platforms, and more. The list of available open source components, methods, classes, and algorithms is simply too numerous to mention. One customer that I recently spoke to reused open source components in 35% of a $3M software development project. This both reduced schedule risk and produced significant savings for that organization.

Managing Risk
The strategic reuse of open source software brings tremendous potential benefits, but also creates new risks and issues that must be managed: security vulnerabilities, conflicting license obligations, version control issues, code leakage, export regulations, and policy issues. These issues are only somewhat unique to the reuse of external software, but are especially challenging to manage for a code base in which there may be relatively less in-house expertise.

The introduction of an external component into a project needs to be managed as an integrated set of business processes involving software developers in partnership with purchasing, IT, security, legal, product management, the technology office, the open source review board, and any other internal groups that have a stake in the policy administration of software. This is important, because engineering can potentially produce functional code that is dysfunctional from a business and compliance perspective.

In a recent survey on Black Duck Software's code search site, Koders.com, we found that only 52% of respondents work in organizations that have policies for managing open source code. Only 14% of respondents have instituted automation to support these policies; the rest have manual process or no processes at all. Manual processes are better than nothing, but they place a heavy burden on developers, have difficulty scaling and reduce organizational agility. In one major software company, developers must fill out a 10-page form and make a presentation before a review board in order to use open source code. In others, developers spend about 5% of their time polling Internet sites for code patches and monitoring industry forums and security sites to learn about security vulnerabilities.

We talk to many organizations that use manual code reviews to determine the origin of code, which is essential to the task of auditing code licenses. The audit typically stops development and engineers gather in a conference room and sift through perhaps millions of lines of code. In this type of scenario, the organization often has to be content with 10-15% code coverage, leaving a great risk of potential undiscovered issues.

Compliance with applicable open source license requirements is key to avoiding costly and time-consuming litigation. Once a theoretical matter, open source licenses are starting to be tested in the courts. The Software Freedom Law Center has been reported to conduct 50 legal actions per year and has recently filed several lawsuits against alleged violators of open source licenses.

A recent U.S. Federal Appeals court decision in the Jacobsen v. Katzer case determined that Katzer had improperly used open source and was liable for copyright infringement as well as breach of contract. Assuming the fines imposed in these disputes are a tolerable business risk, the prospect of facing a court injunction against shipping product probably is not. In addition, the publicity surrounding today's open source issues can threaten the reputation and relationships of the companies involved.

Automating Hybrid Software Development
Automation technology can streamline the processes that are necessary for successfully managing the proper integration of code from many sources. Documented procedures and training form the basis of a comprehensive approach, but the dynamic nature of software development necessitates an automated framework that provides checks and balances and establishes rules of engagement for engineers and other policy makers.

Automated systems can provide transparency to management and can service a globally distributed and agile workforce. It's not uncommon for engineers to inherit a code base that was created by a now disbanded or unavailable group. An automated system provides the institutional memory needed to pick up a project from a policy perspective. It documents the bill-of-materials of a code base and tracks policy dialogue and approvals so that a new team can quickly pick up where the old one left off. An automated systems can provide:

  • Access to a database of open source components with policy information about each
  • An approval process which connects engineers to policy administrators
  • An internally published catalog of approved components, encouraging reuse
  • A method to generate a software bill-of-materials and audit that BOM for unapproved code
  • Mechanisms to monitor component adoption by various internal customers
  • Security vulnerability alerts for catalog components

With automation, hybrid software development becomes faster and more cost-effective, workflow is optimized, and security and policy integrity can be standardized enterprise-wide.

Software developers are under tremendous pressure to produce more results with fewer people. By automating hybrid software development, organizations can cut project costs and still meet schedule targets by strategically reusing open source and other code. Software development organizations can stretch 2009 budgets by aggressively taking advantage of existing open source software while more efficiently managing the unwanted risks and issues that accompany the mixing of code from different sources.

More Stories By Eran Strod

Eran Strod is Director of Product Marketing for Black Duck Software (www.blackducksoftware.com), the leading global provider of products and services for accelerating software development through the managed use of open source and third-party code.

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