Open Source First Strategy

The landscape has changed dramatically since Internet 1.0 in the 1990s. At the heart of our current technology boom is a fundamental reimagining of how we engage with the customer and do business online. Social networking, mobile devices, big data, and cloud computing, offer unique new opportunities to generate competitive advantage.

In this day and era, all businesses, no matter how large or small, have to view themselves as technology businesses first, focusing on their verticals second. Technology is no longer a nice to have, but a must have. At the heart of this new overriding need to get technology leverage is open source software, which has moved from being in the doghouse in the 1990s to being in the limelight today.

You have probably heard “software is eating the world” over and over by this point. It is a reference to how every business needs to become a software (and data) business. Perhaps what you didn’t know is that the majority of that software is likely open source. According to the 2014 Open Source Survey, Blackduck predicts that over 1.8M open source projects will be accounted for in its knowledgebase in 2015, an increase of 100% over 2013 and continuing to grow at 50% per year.

Open source software provides a unique opportunity for enterprises, large and small, and it’s not just about providing “free” software. Most important to the average enterprise is the ability to be part of a larger community where there is a public commons. After decades of acquiring and locking into proprietary software platforms, enterprises are looking at open source as a way to change the game – and the nature of the relationship they have with their technology providers.

This has resulted in what I call open source first strategy. Unlike in the 1990s where one had to justify even a basic evaluation of an open source solution, now the reverse holds true. Using a proprietary software solution to solve a problem requires first proving that no existing open source software can resolve the situation. Smart IT managers and teams would rather lock-in to a specific technology without locking into the vendor, which is only possible with open source software. This results in the so-called “comedy of the commons” where everyone benefits from their own self-interests.

Much of how we have thought about IT in the past is now up for re-evaluation. Open source first strategies are leading to massive market momentum around open source projects, beginning in the early days with Linux, but now exploding out into a cornucopia of software that provides massive value including Hadoop for big data, OpenStack for cloud computing, Cassandra for modern databases, and so on.

Even the most ardent proprietary software stacks are opening up. Witness the recent open sourcing of .NET by Microsoft and VMware’s extensive forays into open source with OpenStack. In fact, VMware is the sixth largest contributor to the OpenStack code base. It is a sign of things to come that open source is seen less as a cost savings measure and more as a key tool to drive competitive business advantage. If your average IT person was asked to foresee this outcome in the mid 90s, it’s doubtful that many would have been able to make the prediction.

More recently, Pivotal announced the significant momentum around Fortune 100/500 adoption of Pivotal Cloud Foundry, an open source Platform-as-a-Service, along with announcing they would open source components of Pivotal Big Data Suite. Outstanding, high quality commercial enterprise products such as Pivotal HD, Pivotal HAWQ, Pivotal Greenplum Database and Pivotal Gemfire are also being open sourced in order to heed the call of today’s enterprise customers.

As open source software eats the world, keep in mind that while the idea of a public commons hasn’t always worked, there are some clear places where it does. Open source software is showing us that working together for our own interests can be a powerful tool for shared success. It also shows us that just because you open source your own software it doesn’t necessarily follow that you can’t remain competitive.

About the Author: Randy Bias