There was once a time when IT vendors shunned the idea of open source. Why wouldn't they? The idea of sharing their very own programming innovations with others was viewed as detrimental to any competitive business. But nearly 20 years on, open source is now in vogue and has been embraced by some of the biggest IT vendors and their clients. So what changed? We find out.
Open source picture from Shutterstock
The popularity of open source, believe it or not, has little to do with cost. Yes, the free nature of open source means that vendors can acquire and build upon those codes at a lower cost but, first and foremost, it's about consistency.
Open source allow vendors to develop different software and platforms that are compatible with each other. This provides assurance for enterprises that are throwing a chunk of money into software from one vendor. They can rest easy that even if that vendor's business goes tits up the offering can still be supported by another.
Another driving force behind the surge of open source is workforce. In an age where companies are jostling for technology talent, having a vibrant open source community means there is access to a large pool of talent. OpenStack, the open source cloud computing platform developed by NASA and Rackspace, alone has 500 companies and thousands of members that have joined the project. This enables collaborative development on a global scale.
"The only way to organise an engineering team that large is through a lot of open and transparent conversation," Pivotal Software field CTO, Joshua McKenty, told Lifehacker Australia. He is one of the original architects of OpenStack. "This encourages the release of a lot of small patches for the OpenStack platform with lots of communication around them, which is at the core of agile development and fuels a lot of innovation.
"Adopting open source is the easiest way for big enterprises to get that kind of innovation."
At a rapid rate as well. Open source allows organisations to implement business IT solutions swiftly. If the sales department wants an application that can assist them in closing deals with customers, the development team can make it happen faster by using open source tools already available. This kind of speed is invaluable for businesses in competitive industries.
From platform-as-a-service, raw container initiatives, to cloud foundry, open source has edged its way the heart of organisations and their IT. There are now turnkey enterprise solutions based off open source platforms. Mobile app development, which is now so prevalent in the business and consumer market, is mostly builds open source software.
"Every major phone in the world is powered by open source. Android is based on Linux and let's not forget Apple, at its core, uses open source Berkeley software distribution (BSD)," McKenty said. "Most of what's happening in public cloud computing outside of Amazon is pretty much open source."
We've waxed lyrical about the advantages of open source, but it does have its limitations. For one, developers around the world don't exactly have any concrete incentive to contribute to these open projects. They're not getting paid to participate and most do it on a purely voluntary basis, which means the evolution of open source projects are at the mercy of developers who have the skills and are willing to dedicate the time to contribute.
Open source software is also often less user friendly and may require extra training for developers who wish to work with them. But with big companies like Google, IBM, Microsoft, HP, and even Pintrest ramping up efforts in open source, hopefully these limitations will be remediated to some degree.
McKenty's bold prediction is that in the not too distant future, every application written in the world's top 2000 companies will running on an open source cloud platform. For those organisations that has yet to welcome open source with open arms, he said it's all about a shift in mindset.
"Companies need to implement a whole set of changes to facilitate the continuous delivery of applications when it comes to open source," McKenty said. "Most organisations have a profound attachment to suffering and they're addicted to doing things the hardest way possible. Getting over that addiction is tough.
"While open source software can bring a swathe of advantages to businesses, companies need to change their culture of suffering as a starting point. Only then can they start to take advantage of open source."
Is your company already on the open source bandwagon? Tell us about your experience in the comments.