The use of open source software is now considered a strategic imperative by UK businesses, according to a survey released by open source database vendor Ingres.

The Managing 21st Century Business Information survey questioned IT professionals from the UK’s largest public sector and enterprise organisations on a host of open source and information management issues.

Somewhat predictably, given that the results were published by Ingres, the survey highlighted that open source is gaining in popularity, with 77 percent of businesses either planning to deploy, or already using open source software in their core business systems. This marks a change from the traditional viewpoint that enterprises do not view open source as suitable for mission critical applications.

It is also not surprising that the research found that 89 percent of respondents rated the “right database” as having a significant or critical role in addressing the challenges and issues facing IT departments today. Indeed, 68 percent said it was significant, 21 percent said it was critical, 9 percent said it had a small impact, and 2 percent said it had no impact at all.

The most critical functions of a database today were rated as storage, security and then business intelligence by respondents. Data auditing and compliance was a close fourth. Over a quarter of respondents agreed that these priorities had changed from a decade ago, with data storage and access remaining the most important functions of a database.

When asked to comment on the importance of rapidly delivering applications on top of existing information management systems, 27 percent of respondents thought this was critical, 53 percent thought it was very important, 18 percent rated it as important, and 2 percent as not important at all.

And is seems it is no longer just web servers running Apache that enterprises are concentrating their open source developments upon. When asked what applications were being developed or deployed on top of their databases, roughly 45 percent (the largest group) said custom applications.

These custom applications include e-learning in the public sector, as well as subscriber management in telecoms and police systems. However, business intelligence was the largest single sector with roughly 24 percent of respondents. Approximately 8 percent opted for packaged applications, while 7 percent opted for CRM, and 2 percent choosing ERP.

Meanwhile, 33 percent said development or deployment of these applications had been more challenging in a “closed source” (i.e. proprietary) environment. 29 percent said open source was more challenging, while 38 percent didn’t know.

But the biggest worry for the big enterprise players came when the survey identified over half of respondents as stating that adopting open source software was now a strategic imperative. 42 percent agreed with this, with 9 percent strongly agreeing. 36 percent remained neutral, with 13 percent disagreed.

And it seems one of the major concerns associated with open source is no longer quite so relevant anymore. 44 percent of respondents said that open source software had now matured to a point where security fears are no greater an issue than for customers of proprietary software. Another 13 percent strongly agreed with this. Fewer people disagreed (4 percent) or strongly disagreed (2 percent). Meanwhile, 37 percent remained neutral.

While there is little doubt over the long-term cost benefits of opting for open source, the survey showed users have overcome concerns over the short term expenses of replacing current infrastructure and systems with open source systems and retraining.

Seven out of ten respondents agreed that open source will deliver the cost savings now demanded from the IT department. 59 percent agreed with this, and 11 percent strongly agreed. Only 5 percent disagreed, while 25 percent remained neutral.

This comes despite well-publicised experiences such as those of Newham Borough Council back in 2004, and Birmingham City Council.

A majority (69 percent) of respondents believed closed source (proprietary) software vendors could not justify the high licence fees they typically charge. 49 percent agreed, and 18 percent strongly agreed. Only 4 percent disagreed while 29 percent remained neutral.

Oracle and co have often been accused of overcharging, and surveys like this show that the high license fees charged by traditional enterprise vendors have not gone unnoticed.

When asked if an open source model provided a competitive advantage over closed source vendors, 74 percent said yes it did. 5 percent said no, while 21 percent didn’t know.

“There can be little doubt that open source has now moved out of the basement and into the boardroom,” said Brian Mort, senior vp on Northern Europe for Ingres in a statement. “...the enthusiasm for open source promises to continue at pace as the market matures and the reality of achieving real business value explodes many of the long-held and inaccurate myths.”

The survey also reinforced the three pressing concerns currently facing IT managers, namely keeping IT operations running, adding value to the business, and then reducing costs. It was interesting however that the majority of respondents rated keeping the infrastructure running as their number one priority, followed by adding value. Reducing costs seems to have taken a bit of back seat for IT departments facing their immediate business challenges.

Ingres did not respond to a request for an interview at the time of going to press.