Red Hat's 2021 Open Source Survey: Who's Using the Software and Why

Red Hat's annual State of Enterprise Open Source survey report finds that users trust its security, plan increased use of containers and more.

Christine Hall

March 2, 2021

5 Min Read
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This morning, Red Hat released its third annual “The State of Enterprise Open Source” survey report, and for the third year in a row, results indicated that "infrastructure modernization" is the enterprise's top use for open source software.

The survey was conducted by Illuminas and results are based on responses from 1250 worldwide enterprise IT leaders who weren't aware of Red Hat's involvement in the study. To take part, respondents had to influence purchase decisions in the areas of app development, app infrastructure, cloud, storage, middleware, server OS, or virtualization, and do so in an organization with at least 1% of the IT infrastructure running Linux.

Not only did infrastructure improvement remain at the top of list, the percentage of respondents citing it as the main use of open source continues to grow. In the first open source survey, conducted in 2019, 54% said it was a main use case. In this year's report, that number is 64%.

"That's to be expected because companies are moving to Kubernetes; they're moving to containers," said Gordon Haff, the technology evangelist at Red Hat who wrote the commentary for the report. "They're also still replacing a certain amount of legacy software, although the amount of legacy, proprietary Unix and the like, certainly continues to go down."

The next two uses on the list are nearly tied for second place, with 54% of the respondents citing "application development," and 53% pointing to "digital transformation."

"All those things are part and parcel of the same thing," Haff pointed out, "because you don't have digital transformation if you don't have apps."

Changing Enterprise Perceptions on Security

One of the biggest takeaways from the 2021 open source survey report is that enterprises are beginning to agree with the open source community, which has long maintained that open source software is more secure than proprietary. This is partly because the code is freely available for security specialist to peruse, which means that even the smallest known security bug tends to get fixed quickly, under the assumption that if a white hat security expert can find it, so can a black hat cracker/hacker.

IT administrators have often been unconvinced, however, partly because of the pitch from proprietary vendors who argue that open source software is inherently less secure precisely because the code is as freely available to the bad actors as it is to enterprise employees.

That perception seems to be changing, with 30% of the respondents saying security is a top benefit to using enterprise open source, making it the third most-cited benefit, behind "higher quality software" at 35% and "access to latest innovations" at 33%. Fourth place in the category was another security-related reason: the "ability to safely leverage open source technologies."

In the commentary, Haff delves deeper into respondents’ perceptions of security as an open source benefit:

"Eighty-four percent indicate that enterprise open source 'is a key part of my organization’s security strategy,'" he said. "Seventy-five percent trust enterprise open source because it undergoes 'a stringent vetting process and commercial testing to ensure quality code.'"

In addition, 52% said that open source was being used by their IT security teams, according to Red Hat's 2021 survey.

However, concerns about open source remain. When asked, "What would you consider to be the top three barriers to using the enterprise open source solutions or technologies?" 35% of respondents said "security of the code," just behind support (42%) and compatibility issues (38%).

Open Cloud and Emerging Technologies

Considering that Red Hat is focused on container-based hybrid multi-cloud, it's not surprising that a large part of the open source survey centers around Kubernetes and the emerging technologies associated with edge deployments, which are increasingly container-driven.

For container adoption (see below chart), nearly half, or 47% of respondents, said they're running containers in production workloads, with another 37% running containers for development only. Of the 16% that aren't running containers at all, the majority of those respondents said they're evaluating the technology.

The survey also indicated that container use still seems to be on a growth curve, with 72% expecting their organization's use of containers to increase during the next calendar year. Haff said that here there was a noticeable difference in adoption according to the type of business.

"You do see a little bit difference in the take up rate by the industries we looked at specifically," he said. "It was pretty much what you would expect. Financial services and telco are kind of out in front, healthcare and retail are a bit slower. Even there, the differences are not huge."

According to Red Hat's 2021 open source survey report, 81% of telcos expect to increase container usage over the next 12 months, with the financial services and retail industries matching the overall average of 72%. Healthcare lags behind, with 62% planning for increased container use.

When it comes to cloud, 69% of respondents indicated a preference for using multiple vendors for their cloud infrastructure needs instead of talking a single cloud approach.

"People are doing hybrid cloud," Haff said. "They're doing edge, which is very closely related to hybrid cloud. They're looking for things like Kubernetes to provide some consistency across these environments, and inevitably you have multiple vendors for at least parts of that infrastructure."

Fifty-five percent of respondents said they're currently taking advantage of edge computing or IoT, with 72% saying they plan to do so within two years. For artificial intelligence and machine learning, 48% are using it now, with 65% planning on doing so within two years.

A copy of the 2021 State of Enterprise Open Source survey report is available on Red Hat's website.

About the Author(s)

Christine Hall

Freelance author

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001 she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and began covering IT full time in 2002, focusing on Linux and open source software. Since 2010 she's published and edited the website FOSS Force. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux.

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