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Why enterprises embrace open source

Bernard Golden | June 2, 2015
I just finished attending two conferences: the Cloud Foundry Summit and the OpenStack Summit. Both were hives of activity, with attendance well up on the previous event. Most striking to me was the significant presence of large enterprise IT decision-makers -- architects, directors of applications and operations, and even a sprinkling of CIOs.

I just finished attending two conferences: the Cloud Foundry Summit and the OpenStack Summit. Both were hives of activity, with attendance well up on the previous event. Most striking to me was the significant presence of large enterprise IT decision-makers — architects, directors of applications and operations, and even a sprinkling of CIOs.

And, despite the fact that both events were held in good-weather locations (Cloud Foundry in Santa Clara and OpenStack in a spectacular Vancouver waterfront convention center), these enterprise IT attendees were on no corporate boondoggle — they were attending to evaluate how these open source products could help them meet their organization's responsibilities.

These examples illustrate something I've been seeing for a while — enterprise IT has a large and growing commitment to open source products in preference to proprietary alternatives.

The advantages of open source

This is an interesting and (from my perspective) welcome development. Enterprises appreciate the advantages of open source-licensed products:

  • Greater transparency: Not only is the source code available, all of the design deliberations, etc., are out in the open, in contrast to the secretive processes of proprietary vendors. It's easy to assess the product and its community and determine if using the product is a good decision.
  • Greater innovation: Open source development reflects Bill Joy's law: No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else. That's true for all software vendors, so using a product with a potentially much larger developer base enables access to greater innovation. There's another way this is true, however: By allowing anyone to contribute code, it allows an open source product to incorporate unusual use cases, which a proprietary vendor would either ignore or dismiss.
  • Greater ability to affect product direction. It's a cliché of the software industry: those who spend the gold get to steer the boat (bit of a mixed metaphor there, I admit). If you're a small customer of a significant proprietary software vendor, you better hope your product objectives align with the vendor or its large users; otherwise, your feature requests will get tossed in the circular file. With open source, you can directly interact with developers to present your use cases; if important enough, you can contribute code that implements your desired functionality.

A good fit for containers

Moreover, open source licensing models are a much better fit for Third Platform applications. Their inherent load variability means that new instances/containers are being started and stopped all the time. This presents an enormous challenge to proprietary code products, as they are typically licensed on a perpetual basis per instance/container. If an application has extremely high use over 10 percent of its lifespan, that means buying a lot of licenses that are rarely used. Proprietary licenses are a good fit for static applications with stable use profiles.

 

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