No more in the spotlight but never as influential

Open Source Software (OSS) is an underlying force behind the all the current hyped topics such as Big Data, Cloud or SDN. OSS is very much aligned with a turn of strategy that Telecom Operators adopted at the end of the last decade. The full impacts on traditional Enterprise IT are still yet to be seen.

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I got interested in Open Source Software (OSS) applications for the enterprise IT a good 7 years ago. When I started, I have to admit that it was a hard sell and the results were very mitigated. With its complex licensing models, perceived lack of Service Level Agreement (SLA) and prejudice towards desktop applications, the consideration of OSS to support “mission critical” functions was a heresy… What a long way we have come since then!

Websites offering comprehensive lists of Open Source alternatives to Commercial off-the-shelf software (COTS) are now countless, e.g. Source Forge or Enterprise Open Source Directory. Back in 2009 IDC was predicting a double digit growth in 2014 with revenues generated by OSS adoption . What do we see now? New Telcos are launched running their operations on OSS platforms; Cloud platforms are built on top of OpenStack; and naturally with the rise of Big Data, OSS is everywhere with candidate such as Hadoop or Storm.

Is this the end of the story? Did OSS finally win the ideological battle for a freer digital world?

No. This would be going too fast while still underestimating the long term impacts of OSS.

I believe the tipping point for Enterprise Software and OSS took place with the arising of the so-called “Commercial Open Source Software” business model. At first the juxtaposition of these words sounds contradictory. They designate a model where a company owning the copyrights of a software distributes it under various licenses: a free one with streamlined features and a commercial one with a more comprehensive feature set. The users of the free license are able to enrich the feature set and share their extensions with the original copyright owner. This one can in turn integrate these extensions in the commercial license after a certification process. The commercial license naturally offers the same guarantee and SLA as those of a COTS. The practice is also known now as dual licensing. The main advantages of this approach are the drastic diminution of the development costs and a roadmap directly driven and tested by its users. Customers, IT experts are incentivized to contribute code in many ways: the access to free software of course but more powerfully the recognition from the IT community when a  new module makes its way to the commercial license. For such an approach to work, the OSS initiative needs a good brand. I think in the Enterprise Software area this model was successfully pioneered by SugarCRM which proved more innovative than its CRM COTS counterparts. Nowadays in another area like Big Data, Cloudera follows a very similar approach.

A root cause for the success of OSS in the telecom industry lies with a change of strategy which happened at the end of the last decade. In the noughties, Service Providers outsourced their IT development in order to benefit from economies of scale. However the internet is erasing traditional borders and former providers are now turning into competitors or “coopetitors” (sorry for the neologism). Telcos had to react and are now owning a bigger share of the technology stack . They foster, once more, in-house development. I believe this trend didn’t fully impact COTS Providers yet. When it does, they will have to change their go-to-market by allowing joint development instead of delivering a black box. They will have to significantly reduce their development costs for example by leveraging OSS, by managing a more itinerant workforce or by managing a community of external developers as SugarCRM did in its own time. This will require a lot of innovation on their part.

If we observe the Security industry, these changes have already begun. Flexible and cost efficient startups are able to deliver really innovative products that they couldn’t have developed on their own. They do so by tapping into the vast amount of OSS tools in Data Analytics. Security solutions were once managing devices or monitoring logs, now these new products are aiming at managing the end-to-end security event lifecycle, from detection to remediation and they also do so in a customized way adapted to each individual and device.

If I would be a young IT engineer, I would definitely invest my time in developing expertise in a few chosen OSS initiatives. Even if the prediction where COTS providers generalizing the hiring of freelancers doesn’t materialize, it would still be time well invested 😉