Resources Blog Better and Fewer Suppliers (2015 Software Supply Chain ...

Better and Fewer Suppliers (2015 Software Supply Chain Report)

That Supplier is Better For You

Since releasing the 2015 State of the Software Supply Chain Report, there has been a lot of great discussion across the industry on best practices for managing the complexity introduced by the volume and velocity of the components used across your software supply chain.

Today I want to focus on the huge ecosystem of open source projects (“suppliers”) that feed a steady stream of innovative components into our software supply chains. In the Java ecosystem alone, there are now over 108,000 suppliers of open source components. Across all component types available to developers (e.g., RubyGems, NuGet, npm, Bower, PyPI, etc.), estimates now reach over 650,000 suppliers of open source projects.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 3.24.39 PM

However, like in traditional manufacturing, not all suppliers deliver parts of comparable quality and integrity. My latest research, the 2015 State of the Software Supply Chain Report, shows that some open source projects use restrictive licenses and vulnerable sub-components, while other projects are far more diligent at updating the overall quality of their components. Choosing the best and fewest suppliers can improve the quality and integrity of the applications we deliver to our customers.

While I am hosting a webinar next week to share many of the detailed report findings, I wanted to share a few of the more meaningful stats here.

Your 7,600 Suppliers

My research for the report revealed many new perspectives on “suppliers” across the software supply chains. First of all, I saw that the average large development organization consumed over 240,000 open source components last year — sourced from over 7,600 open source projects.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 10.29.08 AM

On the surface, the huge reliance on open source projects is a great thing. Development teams have chosen to not write those pieces themselves, but have sourced the needed components from outside suppliers. This practice speeds development, enables more innovation, and ensures time-to-release goals are achieved. The use of open source is so prolific today, few of us could ever imagine reducing the use of those components and their suppliers in the future.

At the same time that we benefit from open source, our high paced, high volume consumption practices don’t allow us the time needed to do the due diligence on the suppliers or open source projects where we source our component parts from.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 10.29.31 AM

For example, of the 240,000 average component downloads in 2014, the same businesses sourced an average of 15,000 components that included known security vulnerabilities. In many cases, developers were downloading vulnerable component versions, when safer versions of those same components were available from the open source projects. While no one intends to download components with known vulnerabilities, the problem is exacerbated due to the lack the visibility into a better recommended version.

Fewer Suppliers, Less Context Switching

Choosing an open source project supplier should be considered an important strategic decision in organizations because changing a supplier (“open source project”) used is far more effort than swapping out a specific component. Like traditional suppliers, open source projects have good and bad practices impacting the overall quality of their component parts.

Traditional manufacturing supply chains intentionally select specific parts from approved suppliers. They also rely on formalized sourcing and procurement practices. This practice also focuses the organization on using the best and fewest suppliers — an effort that improves quality, reduces context switching, and also accelerates mean time to repair when defects are discovered. One industry example from the report describes how Toyota manages 125 suppliers for their Prius to help sustain competitive advantages over GM who manages over 800 suppliers for the Chevy Volt.

By contrast, development teams working with software supply chains often rely on an unchecked variety of supply, where each developer or development team can make their own sourcing and procurement decisions. The effort of managing over 7,600 suppliers introduces a drag on development and is contrary to their need to develop faster as part of agile, continuous delivery and devops practices.

Coming to Terms

When you come to terms with the volume of consumption and the massive ecosystem of suppliers you can source your components from, you quickly realize it is impossible to address this issue with a manual review process. Any organizations clutching to these outdated manual practices are will continue to be outgunned by the velocity by their software supply chains.

Just as traditional manufacturing supply chains have turned to automation, software development teams need to take the same approach by further automating their software supply chains. Information about suppliers and the quality of their projects needs to be made available to developers at the time they are selecting components. Information about the latest versions, features, licenses, known vulnerabilities, popularity of versions being used, and the cadence of new releases should be made available to developers in an automated way. Automating the availability of this information about suppliers can lead to better and fewer suppliers being used.

Get the Facts

Be sure to read the full 2015 State of the Software Supply Chain Report for more information about open source suppliers and organizations sourcing practices. The report also highlights current and best practices being used in organizations that are managing their use of suppliers that feed their software supply chains.

To hear more about the overall report findings and industry best practices, please join me on Wednesday, June 24th (1pm ET) for our webinar.

Picture of Derek Weeks

Written by Derek Weeks

Derek serves as vice president and DevOps advocate at Sonatype and is the co-founder of All Day DevOps -- an online community of 65,000 IT professionals.