In the span of a few short years, open source software has evolved from being a means to create the free equivalent of an existing commercial platform to now becoming the primary means of driving innovation across the IT industry.
That rate of innovation has increased dramatically in the last few years. However, much of that innovation would not have been possible if large swaths of the open source community hadn’t been able to employ best DevOps practices to collaborate, said CloudBees CEO Sacha Labourey.
Early on, the adoption of open source software was driven by a desire to commoditize operating systems and databases by making available a free equivalent.
“It was all about replacement software,” said Labourey.
Open source adoption got a major boost in the enterprise during the last economic downturn. Many organizations implemented an “open source first” strategy to lower their IT acquisition costs. As part of that mandate, developers began making greater use of cloud infrastructure to build applications based on an open source stack of software using best DevOps practices.
In some cases, that preference for open source software turned into religious fervor. In other cases, it simply became a means to bypass IT purchasing processes that developers considered obstacles to writing code. Of course, it was only a matter of time before the open source software used to build applications made its way into production environments managed by IT operations teams.
Just as significantly, open source software was leveraged to build public clouds that today are transforming the way IT is consumed.
None of this shift has been lost on IT vendors. As the demand for proprietary code slackened, many found it profitable to offer support services for open source software. The more there is to consume, the more the support services contracts grew. Now every vendor from IBM to small IT services providers such as Fairwinds has launched open source projects that help drive demand for IT services expertise.
“There’s pain around integrating a lot of disparate open source projects,” said Robert Brennan, director of open source software for Fairwinds. “Organizations may be getting software for free, but there’s usually not a lot of help around.”
Now almost every IT vendor in the world is making software engineers available to work on open source projects. All that talent focused on open source projects has led to the development of new platforms such as Jenkins, GitHub, Kubernetes and, more recently, a raft of smaller projects. With the rise of containers and cloud-native applications, open source software projects are entering another era that will see many of those same software engineers leveraging DevOps practices more broadly to drive even more innovative projects at increasingly faster rates.
“All the innovation is now being driven by open source,” said Joe Fernandes, vice president, products for cloud platforms at Red Hat. “You no longer have to wait for a single vendor to move something forward.”
The challenge many organizations now face is keeping pace with the rate of innovation. Most major open source projects, thanks to DevOps practices, are updated once a week. To shield themselves from having to work with raw bits of code, many IT organizations rely on curated distributions of open source code from vendors such as Canonical, SUSE and Red Hat.
Today, the economics of software development have changed. Providers of proprietary software are at a distinct disadvantage when competing against open source projects that can marshal more developer resources. A vendor selling proprietary software needs to keep a smaller team of developers highly focused on adding compelling, innovative features faster than an open source project can replicate them. As many vendors continue to show, that goal isn’t impossible to achieve; however, it is a pace of innovation that is exceedingly difficult to maintain.
It remains to be seen just how much of the software deployed in IT environments will be based on open source code going forward. But with each passing day, the balance on the scale continues to lean further away from proprietary code.