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BLOG: Why open source will rule the data centre

Michael Bushong | Feb. 6, 2014
According to Michael Bushong of networking startup Plexxi, three commonly occurring conditions ensure that open source software will steadily widen its data centre footprint.

Rare is the infrastructure that lacks open source software, but as we watch such new technologies as SDN move into our data centers, open source seems increasingly likely to penetrate every corner — not just servers and applications, but networking, storage, and more.

Michael Bushong, vice president of marketing at SDN vendor Plexxi, sees the dominance of open source as inevitable. In this week's New Tech Forum, he walks us through his reasoning that open source will spread throughout IT. — Paul Venezia

Open source as the future of IT
Open is playing an increasingly vital role in IT infrastructure. The current, dominant position of open source in server-side computing is well understood, and networking is now edging its way toward open source with the OpenDaylight movement. But is open source a natural evolutionary path for all IT disciplines, or do certain characteristics make some areas more attractive for open source than others?

When we think about networking as an industry, for example, we tend to compare its progress to the evolutionary track taken by the compute world. The assumption is that the networking industry will unfold in much the same way that the server industry did, marching past similar milestones. But this view of the world assumes that evolution follows a two-dimensional track, and industries are either parked somewhere along the continuum or they're moving toward a predetermined end.

But what if evolution doesn't follow some set schedule or even a singular path? If we assume that technological evolution is not predetermined, then what conditions drive an industry toward open source?

To address these questions, let's start by examining the three major drivers for broad open source adoption:

Single platform
When lots of applications run on a single platform, that platform is primed for open source. For most platform plays, value and differentiation are not in the platform, but rather reside in what runs on top of the platform. It makes sense that, to the extent possible, vendors developing on a platform should leverage a common body of work. Re-creating foundational elements not unique is duplicative work that ultimately costs the end-user. Additionally, a common platform helps ensure that all applications on top of the platform can run in what ends up looking like a fairly ubiquitous execution environment. This is largely what drove the migration of compute toward Linux.

Contrary to popular belief, a platform that's open source and ubiquitous can also be lucrative. Companies like Red Hat have been successful at leveraging a broad installed base to generate solid revenue streams. That uniformity of the platform Red Hat supports helps ensure that its customer base is as large as possible. Even small deviations in the underlying platform would fracture Red Hat's customer base into smaller sets.


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