When Martin Chavez, Chief Information Officer of Goldman Sachs, boldly states in Goldman Sachs’ “Our Thinking – Trends in Our Business” expert video series, “Open Source along with The Cloud is a 1-in-20 year paradigm shift occurring now and transforming how companies do business,” I decided to stop and take stock.
In 20 years of commercializing IT software – beginning at Bechtel Artificial Intelligence Institute – I have experienced multiple boom-bust technology cycles including the Artificial Intelligence cycle in the 1990’s and Web Services/Dot com in 2000. As an IT sales and marketing professional, I watched the evolution of Mobile, Internet-of-Things, M2M, Machine Learning, Business Intelligence and Big Data. I have since made a deeper connection between The Cloud and Open Source which allowed me to more fully appreciate not only the impact that this shift has already had, but the accelerated rate at which it will continue to alter how we do business and live our lives.
The Evolution Of Open Source:
Open Source is best understood from its historical context. Software code was first produced in the 1950’s exclusively by computer science academics and corporate researchers collaborating to develop computer operating systems, namely UNIX. The code was then shared in a human-readable form because developers and researchers distributed it to allow examination, add functionality, fix bugs and modify it to run on different hardware. This practical “opening” of the source code to others for the sake of collaboration and advancement of the industry led to the founding of ARPANET in 1968: the precursor to the internet where researchers shared code and information. In 1969, however, the U.S. Department of Justice charged IBM with destructive business practices, requiring IBM to unbundle its free software from hardware.
Fast forward to the 1980s, when AT&T began to enforce its purported intellectual property rights related to UNIX in response to increasing threats of litigation requesting the release of software code developed collaboratively. The software industry then began its efforts to formalize and impose the rules of cooperative software development. At the same time as this “privatization” and growing trend of developers blocking code sharing freedoms, Richard Stallman of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory argued for code openness as a social imperative. Many agreed with Stallman’s free software arguments but preferred to call it “open-source software” to convey their disagreement with the social imperative aspect but valued its technical advantages.
The 1990s saw numerous milestones in the advancement of Open Source, included the development of the relational database management system, MySQL, and high quality Open Source software products such as Apache, Perl, and Mozilla.
The major driving force and pivotal moment that initiated the accelerated growth of high quality, Open Source solutions has been the introduction of a profitable, sustainable economic business model by independent software providers – Oracle, Sun, Red Hat, Novell, SugarCRM and Google, to name a few – who have use open-source frameworks within their proprietary, for-profit product. Google and many other highly successful software companies are moving towards an economic model of advertising-supported software. In 2008 Google release the first version of its Android mobile operating system – it was an Open Source platform.
There are two other defining moments for Open Source computing. The first is WordPress, an Open Source project, which began its operations in 2003 and today powers one of every 6 websites on the internet and 100,000 additional coming online every day. It is the pinnacle of success for the Open Source platform model with hundreds of programmers all over the world working to improve it. And it’s free. A newcomer can use it to easily host a “selfie” blog or a Fortune company can build an elaborate custom website.
Secondly, 2008 saw the introduction of GitHub, the first Cloud-based, Open Source exchange with distributed software revision and control systems. GitHub made it significantly easier and reduced the barriers for software contributors to participate in free software development projects with the necessary collaboration software project management and engineering tools.
If the impact of the Open Source platform hasn’t quite hit home yet, then consider Wikipedia.org. This free-content encyclopedia project currently boasts 30 million articles in 287 languages written collaboratively by volunteers around the world. It provides a less technical example of the power of open source collaboration models fueling the new mindset and resulting paradigm shift.
Mostly likely your organization evaluates software on a regular basis to help it better automate its business – whether it is for Big Data, Business Intelligence, Team Collaboration, Social Marketing. There is a good chance that it has already considered an Open Source based solution, e.g., Jaspersoft, SpagoBI, Pentaho, BIRT/Actuate for Business Intelligence; or Apache Hadoop, Cloudera, Google’s MapReduce for Big Data; or WordPress, Drupal, Joomla for Content Management, to mention a few.
Open Source software has not only been around since the “beginning”, but has steadily matured and especially in the past decade improved in quality and value, achieving close to, if not exceeding, what off-the-shelf, proprietary ISV software offer: Social Engine, OSClass, Revive Adserver, Magento, OpenCart in the ecommerce space, eXo Platform and MangoApp in the Social Enterprise portal space.
Key Benefits of Open Source Solutions:
- Reduced dependency on ISV development cycles – customize when and what you want
- Access to source code and ready to use functionalities at no upfront cost with free upgrades
- Lower total cost of ownership – 60% lower than traditional ISV product is not uncommon
- Better quality because it is developed and tested by an entire community of developers
- Improved adherence to true open standards for infrastructure programmability, interoperability in The Cloud
- Public availability of the roadmap to improvements, defects and their fixes
Challenges Selecting Right Open Source Platform:
- Does the software provide a good match with the organization’s requirements, and how many of the needed features are readily available?
- How easy is it to customize and can it be done be cost effectively?
- Is it built on an Open Source framework that will support 3-5 years of your organization’s performance requirements, e.g., higher number of users?
- Does your company have sufficient resources to support and enhance the software and
- How often does the core Open Source software get updated with fixes, enhancements by the community?
- Is there a wide enough community of development resources actively working to continually improve the software?
Open Source Software and Beyond: A New Economy?
To respond to this final “beyond” topic, I quote from the free, collaboratively-edited Wikipedia:
According to Yochai Benkler, Jack N. and Lillian R. Berkman Professor for Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School, free software is the most visible part of a new economy of commons-based peer production of information, knowledge, and culture.” As examples, he cites a variety of Free Open Source Software (FOSS) projects. This new economy is already under development. In order to commercialize FOSS, many companies, Google being the most successful, are moving towards an economic model of advertising-supported software.
… the networked environment makes possible a new modality of organizing production: radically decentralized, collaborative, and non-proprietary; based on sharing resources and outputs among widely distributed, loosely connected individuals who cooperate with each other without relying on either market signals or managerial commands.”
Open-source economics is an economic platform based on open collaboration for the production of software, services, or other products. The structure of open source is based on user participation.
If you decide to watch Martin Chavez’ 5 minute video Our Thinking – Trends in Our Business, pay special attention to what Mr. Chavez says about the unprecedented reduction in cost of bringing an enterprise software startup company to profitability from of $50m to $5m today by leveraging Open Source technology. I hope this precipitous drop in cost and my discussions in this article will compel you to explore Open Source solutions for business. This hot Open Source trend isn’t going to fade. On the contrary; it has a very bright future.