Best Practices to Maximize the Benefits of Open Source Software in Enterprises

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Considering today’s fast-paced development cycles and cloud-boosted enterprise growth, businesses require firm and steady support from robust software that fits well within their environments. In light of such dynamic business ecosystems, forbidding open source technologies and relying solely on proprietary closed source software could be detrimental. Leveraging open source components efficiently can benefit enterprises in more ways than one with just a small investment.

One such benefit would be the competitive edge an enterprise can get; particularly startups. Despite prevalent security concerns about open source, several enterprises still rely on open source development services to craft custom software that can augment their operations and accelerate growth, and most of them succeed.

Why some are not succeeding even with the power of open source is a question that can be attributed to how they leverage the technology.

That said, here are a few best practices for enterprises to get maximum benefits from an investment in open source technologies.
 

Patch management

 
Even if it’s a custom-built software, an enterprise requires a centralized patch management framework. This ensures that patches from vendors are applied to the organization’s infrastructure on time and with efficiency. This is a security aspect that generally raises questions about open source software security.

Yes, the source code is available for all. But it doesn’t necessarily compromise the security of the software as long as the code isn’t made available for the public. The point is that many enterprises neglect certain security vulnerabilities such as the OpenSSL vulnerability. Developers can update components to fortify the software and augment the security. But ignoring vulnerabilities like the one mentioned above can delay updates considerably, giving room for cyber-criminals to infiltrate and cause damage.

That’s why organizations need to cultivate the ability to patch quickly and manage patches. Developers who know what they are doing would recommend cataloging the various open source components to keep track of them. So when a vulnerability is exploited somewhere, they can identify the applications that are at risk from the inventory, and fortify them with patches.
 

Prescribed policy for leveraging open source

 
The risk appetite of organizations vary based on their maturity and their targeted markets.  The organization should have a prescribed policy or a set of guidelines regarding how they will use open source software. Lacking such policies might lead the IT team to assume that they can use any open source component. This could, in turn, result in a product brimming with vulnerabilities, incompatible software licenses etc.
 

Controlled repositories

 
Optimized modern day IDEs make it possible for developers to get access to large open source libraries within their native environments. However, this may contradict an enterprise’s policies. Organizations can bar access to such repositories giving access only to approved software components.

Using commercial products that regulate and provide access to local cached versions of repositories is a good practice which allows the security team to closely monitor and control which components are included in the final product. Additionally, this practice also ensures that only approved components are used not other versions that may add potential vulnerabilities to the product.
 

Conclusion

 
Open source software development is not going to decelerate any time soon, and proves to be the catalyst that brings innovation into the mix in the modern enterprise. However, such widespread use also creates risks. The key is to understand open source components and formulate policies that ensure judicious utilization of the components. This could keep driving innovation without impacting security.

Written by Ajeesh Azhakesan

Ajeesh leads Verbat's Open Source Practice. He helps clients with project inception, team establishment, devising software architecture and quality deliveries throughout the product life cycle on all software projects built using Open Source technology stack at Verbat.

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