Some data on OSS TCO: results from past projects

During the development of the EU Cospa project, we found that one of the most common criteria used to evaluate “average” TCO was actually not very effective in providing guidance – as the variability of the results was so large that made any form of “average” basically useless. For this reason, we performed a two-step action: the first was to define a clearly measurable set of metrics (including material and immaterial expenses) and you can find it here:
D3.1 – Framework for evaluating return/losses of the transition to ODS/OSS

The second aspect is related to “grouping”. We found that the optimal methodology for evaluating migration was different for different kind of transitions, like server vs. desktop, full-environment migration vs. partial, and so on; the other orthogonal aspect is whether the migration was successful or not. In fact, *when* the migration is successful, the measured (both short-term and over 5 years) TCO was substantially lower in OSS compared to pre-existing proprietary software. I highlight two cases: a group of municipalities in the North of Italy, and a modern hospital in Ireland. For the municipalities:

Initial acquisition cost: proprietary 800K€, OSS 240K€

annual support/maintenance cost (over 5 years): proprietary 144K€, OSS 170K€

The slightly higher cost for the OSS part is related to the fact that an external consultancy was paid to provide the support. An alternative strategy could have been to retrain the staff for Linux support, using consultancies only in year 1 and 2- leading to an estimated total cost for the OSS solution exactly in line with the proprietary one. The municipalities also performed an in-depth analysis of efficiency; that is, documents processed per day, comparing openoffice and MS office. This was possible thanks to a small applet installed (with users and unions consent) on the PC, recording the user actions and the applications and files used during the migration evaluation. It was found that users were actually *more* productive with OOo in a substantial way. This is probably not related to a relative technical advantage of OOo vs. MS office, but on the fact that some training was provided on before beginning the migration – something that was not done before for internal personnel. So many users actually never had any formal training on any office application, and the limited (4 hours) training performed before the migration actually substantially improved their overall productivity.

On the other hand, it is clear that OOo is – from the point of view of the user – not lowering the productivity of employees, and can perform the necessary tasks without impacting the municipality operations.

- Hospital:
The migration was done in two steps; a first one (groupware, content management, openoffice) and a second one (ERP, medical image management).
In the first, the Initial acquisition cost was: proprietary 735K€, OSS 68K€

annual support/maintenance cost (over 5 year): proprietary 169K€, OSS 45K€

Second stage Initial acquisition cost: proprietary 8160K€, OSS 1710K€

annual support/maintenance cost (over 5 year): proprietary 1148K€, OSS 170K€

The hospital does have a much larger saving percentage when compared with other comparable cases because they were quite more mature in terms of OSS adoption; thus, most of the external, paid consulting was not necessary for their larger migration.

Some of the interesting aspects that we observed:

  • In both tangible and intangible costs, the reality is that one of the most important expense is software search and selection, and the costs incurred in selecting the “wrong” one. This is one of the reasons why in our guidelines we have included the use of established, pragmatic software selection methodologies like FLOSSMETRICS or QUALIPSO (actually we found no basic difference in “effectiveness” among methods: just use at least one!)
    This information is also something that can be reused and disseminated among similar groups; for example, the information on suitability of a backup solution for municipalities can be spread as a “best practice” among similar users, thus reducing the cost of searching and evaluating it. If such a widespread practice can be performed, we estimate that OSS adoption/migration costs can be reduced of something between 17% and 22% with just information spreading alone.
  • On average, the cost of migration (tangible vs. intangible) was nearly equal with one exception that was 27% tangible vs. 73% intangible, due to the pressure to use older pcs, and reuse resources when possible for budgetary reasons. In general, if you want to know the “real” TCO, simply take your material costs and multiply by two. Rough, but surprisingly accurate.
  • Both in COSPA, OpenTTT and our own consulting activity we found that 70% of users *do not need* external support services after the initial migration is performed. For example, while most of COSPA users paid for server support fees for RedHat Enterprise, a substantial percentage could have used a clone like Centos or Oracle linux with the same level of service and support. Also, while not universally possible, community-based support has been found sufficient and capable in a large number of environments. A problem with community support has been found in terms of “attitude”; some users accessed the forums with the same expectations of a paid offering, seriously damaging the image and possibility of support (something like “I need an answer NOW or I’ll sue you!” sent to a public support forum for an open source product). For this reason, we have suggested in our best practices to have a single, central point of contact between the internal users and the external OSS communities that is trained and expert in how OSS works to forward requests and seek solutions. This can reduce, after initial migration and a 1-2 year period of “adaptation”, support costs by shifting some of the support calls to communities. This can reduce costs of a further 15-20% on average.

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