It’s increasingly clear that open source software (OSS) is a smart bet, and it’s irrefutable that data is key to accelerating growth. Learn how open source is helping companies activate data in real time, use AI and machine learning to improve customer relationships, accelerate innovation, and more in this VB Live event.
Over the last decade, open source software has completed the transition from being a fringe technology, used by only a few organizations for non-critical work, to become a mainstream, widely used technology. It’s the basis for just about every public cloud in use — and even the Microsoft Azure cloud uses a tremendous amount of open source software to deliver its services.
“Open source software has become essentially a mandatory part of the infrastructure stack, and frankly it’s a critical part of the developer ecosystem,” says Al Gillen, group VP, software development and open source at IDC. “The way industry has shifted over the past decade or so, it’s pretty clear that open source software has become really core to how we build products in the future.”
A key frontier of open source projects is companies working with competitors on projects that deliver value for the industry as a whole, but don’t impact differentiation for businesses in a competitive sense, Gillen says. These kinds of projects are becoming more common in the retail and financial services industry, as well as the manufacturing industry. For example, some automakers are moving to open source software as a way of creating access to some of the APIs that are available on their vehicles with the goal of encouraging an ecosystem to build third-party applications.
Creating projects that have potential value to multiple parties also means developers can combine the resources of a broad array of companies, even those that are competitive with each other. For example, IBM might work with Hewlett-Packard on an open source software project because the end result of that project’s deliverable would benefit all the companies in the space.
“In terms of innovation, it means that these companies are very often putting some of their best technical talent into driving a project forward,” Gillen says. “Not necessarily because they want to help a competitor, but because they see the value that the project offers to their own software stacks.”
Open source software can also encourage faster innovation since customers and vendors can try before they buy, so to speak. For example, if a developer finds a particular technology intriguing, they can download it and play around to see what it does, and if it will serve their needs in some way. They might see some real value, and want to get involved with the project in order help continue to develop it. Or they might find that they can use this piece of software as the foundation for something new of their own, which can help them innovate more quickly.
“Open source software components that come along establish a baseline functionality that benefits the whole ecosystem or the whole industry — the commodity functionality,” Gillen says. “Customers or vendors can build a product that lives on top of this open source software, and bring value to customers because they make it more manageable, more scalable, or potentially easier to connect to other applications.”
Choosing the right software
Though open source software is often free, Gillen warns that you do get what you pay for. If you’re not paying anything, it probably does have value, but doesn’t necessarily have all the attributes you might want. For example, you need to ensure that risk assessment or security compliance is applied to the project at the frequency you need, that it’s been hardened or verified to expand or scale the way you need it to, that it’s been tested with the hardware or software combination you’re working with, and so on. So it’s best to make sure you have some level of commercial support, says Gillen.
“We’re seeing the software supply chain becoming a vector of attack for some of the hacks that have happened in the last couple of years,” he says. “When you consume an open source component, you really want to know, is this software secure? Are all the things that it depends on and draws in when you do a build, are all of those things upstream also secure, also known to be safe?”
Another thing to be concerned about is the community itself, he says. The technology may be really compelling, but the question you have to ask yourself before you make a commitment to using this open source software technology, is whether there’s a strong, vibrant, and healthy community surrounding it, and if there’s a governance model that makes sense for this particular project.
“If you can’t answer yes to those questions, this may be a technology you want to take a pass on,” he explains. “When you make a commitment to a piece of open source software, you’re making a long-term commitment. You have to make absolutely certain that you’re making a good decision, that the project is healthy, that it’s going to live on and continue to be viable for your need.”
- How and why key open source technologies should play a central role in your data strategy role
- How to leverage leading and emerging technologies to drive your own data strategy forward
- Best practices for aligning cultural as well as technical patterns for success to accelerate innovation
- Al Gillen, Group VP, Software Development and Open Source, IDC
- Bryan Kirschner, Vice President Strategy, DataStax
- Sarah Novotny, Open Source Lead, Azure Office of the CTO, Microsoft