Single point of control
When a single point of control for a large number of infrastructure elements exists, that point of control lends itself well to open source. The value in a point of control lies either in managing very specific workflows (as with most single-vendor management platforms) or in broadly orchestrating workflows across disparate elements in heterogeneous environments (as with SDN controllers). The former tends toward tightly integrated management/execution solutions, while the latter provides a fertile breeding ground for open source.
By adopting an open source framework as a nexus of control, the community helps ensure that individual players do not end up with monopolistic control that can then be used to unduly influence decisions further down the technology stack. In essence, open source creates a very natural counterbalance to what would otherwise be competitive efforts to create "sticky" solutions.
Innovation is always important, but in a technology's formative stages, that innovation may not be focused in a particular direction. When the outcome is uncertain, the number of potential paths approaches infinity. During these times, the best thing for nascent technology is unbridled support. Open source allows the widest aperture for new ideas to come into the space, which makes it ideally suited for nascent technology spaces where iterative experimentation is necessary.
Open source does not preclude companies from creating protected innovations. Certainly, open source projects can be extended in commercial and even proprietary ways, depending on which open source license is in effect. But ultimately, open source ensures that access to the most important base concepts and foundational elements is uniform and open.
Driving the future
With these drivers in mind, it's relatively straightforward to see why open source plays a large role in certain areas of IT. On the server side, the proliferation of applications and the desire for those applications to be portable was enough to ensure the emergence of an open source compute platform like Linux. Once performance was good enough, differentiation was always going to move to the applications, which made unique platform capabilities unnecessary for the lion's share of apps. Where performance or specialty capabilities remain important, there is still a small market for special operating environments.
As we look to networking, open source seems like a foregone conclusion as well. The push toward SDN makes the controller space especially receptive to open source. The desire to have a common control platform capable of near-ubiquitous deployment — and with control hooks into a large number of heterogeneous elements — is likely enough to guarantee a significant role for open source in networking. This is a large part of why projects like OpenDaylight hold such promise. The viability of proprietary, stand-alone control platforms in the face of a push toward orchestration and automation is questionable at best, except in the case of niche workflows.
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