Federal Open Source Referendum Study: Security as an Opportunity and a Risk

Nov 05, 2007

On November 1, 2007, the Federal Open Source Alliance released the results of its Federal Open Source Referendum Study, which provides new insight into the current adoption rates, trends, benefits, challenges, and success rates of open source implementation within Federal agencies.

The data outlines key open source perspectives of Federal civilian, Department of Defense (DoD), and Intelligence IT decision makers. According to the survey more than half of all federal agencies use Open Source software, basing their choices on security, which they also view as the greatest threat.

The survey is backed by HP, Intel and Linux vendor Red Hat, who have joined forces under the Federal Open Source Alliance banner to promote the use of Linux and Open Source Software (OSS) by authorities. The online survey was conducted in October 2007 with a total of 218 respondents. 55 percent stated that they were using OSS or in the process of deploying. 29 percent of those who do not currently use OSS will be looking to change this in the next twelve months. 71 percent of all respondents believe that the use of free software offers advantages to agencies.

The main reason for choosing Open Source is the “ability to access advanced and multi-level security capabilities”, along with “data consolidation imperatives”. Secret services in particular are strong advocates of Open Source with 88 percent stating that they use OSS. However, 34 percent of all respondents with OSS experience also consider security to be the greatest challenge: concerns that a proprietary infrastructure will not support OSS only take second place (30 percent). Interestingly, 40 percent of those who have not implemented open source say that security was the reason for not doing so: this is only topped (42%) by "organizational reluctance to change from the status quo”. Additionally, some criticize the lack of consistent/established standards and technical support. But after deploying open source 97 percent of all respondents were happy with the progress of their projects.

“The study shows that open source is both a mainstream issue and a polarizing factor in Federal IT,” says Nigel Ballard, government marketing manager, Intel Americas. He describes the tasks that the newly formed alliance faces as follows: “We plan to focus on empowering those who have implemented to connect with those who have not to share experiences, collaborate, and exchange best practices.” Of the agencies looking to migrate to Open Source next year, intelligence services account for 66 percent. One of the reasons for this may be the fact that the National Security Agency (NSA) supports the Security Enhanced Linux (SE Linux) project, the security systemt that distributor Red Hat uses.

The results of the survey are available from the project site, and there are plans to repeat the survey on an annual basis.

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