Entries Tagged 'Storage' ↓

Is it asking too much to expect corporate contributions from paying customers?

Are vendors that ask their paying customers to also contribute code changes trying to have their cake and eat it too?

The issue of increasing corporate contributions to open source has been bubbling under ever since Jim Whitehurst highlighted the lack of enterprise participation during a speech at the 2008 OSBC conference.

Whitehurst also mentioned the topic during 2009’s OSBC but in the intervening year there has been little in the way of visible progress. Perhaps this is because it is asking too much.

If it is true that there are two types of people, those who will spend money to save time, and those who will spend time to save money then is it not somewhat unfair to expect those that have already spent money to save time to also spend time on open source contributions?

Most open source vendors expect enterprises to be the paying customers rather than the community users but if the software in question is only really of interest to enterprises then it stands to reason that the vendor will struggle to encourage community contributions.

A radical solution to this problem is to not ask enterprises to pay for your software.

This is the approach taken by Funambol, for which enterprises are the community users of its push email and mobile sync software and service providers, carriers and device markers are the paying customers.

The company separated its user base in this way because, as CEO Fabrizio Capobianco explained at OSBC, “in my opinion the community edition should be targeted at the enterprise, as they are more likely to contribute code back”.

Clearly this approach is not going to work for all software segments but the rise of cloud computing, SaaS/PaaS and hosting providers does point to a new target market for software vendors: ask the service providers to pay for the right to build or offer a service based on your software and sell that to enterprises, but allow enterprises to use it for free in-house.

This approach relies on the use of the AGPL license, which ensures that third parties are not able to offer the software as a service without being compelled to contribute back.

Even then there are no guarantees that enterprises would be more inclined to contribute back to the community. There is no way of compelling corporate contributions unless enterprise distributes the modified software beyond the firewall.

A lot of vendors would find it hard to change the habit of a lifetime and not expect enterprises to be their direct paying customers. Fabrizio’s other piece of advice, which is “do not sell anything to your community, do not even sell them support” would be particularly hard to stick to.

But if a vendor is asking enterprises to spend time and contribute code, then a start would be not asking them to also spend money.

The SCO-ification of NetApp

When Network Appliance announced its patent infringement charges against Sun in September the company went out of its way to try and ensure that it was not seen as the next SCO Group.

Founder and EVP Dave Hitz took to his blog to explain the background and attempt to reassure the the open source ZFS community that “this lawsuit isn’t about downloads for personal or non-commercial use; it is about what Sun is doing.”

Sun’s president and CEO, Jonathan Schwartz, responded and negotiations began. It now appears that they have not been successful, however, and Schwartz has announced that Sun has filed its counterclaims, including a request for a permanent injunction that will remove all of NetApp’s filer products from the market.

What interests me about this case so far is not the merits of the legal claims on each side (and let me state here and now that none of the following comments should be construed as a judgment on the merits of either claim) but the tactics used by both companies to attempt to keep the open source community onside.

Hitz started it off with his reassurance that “NetApp certainly doesn’t believe that we can somehow erase every copy of ZFS that has been downloaded” and that the company did not intend to go after the ZFS community.

Schwartz responded with a different background story and (staying on topic), the suggestion that an attack on Sun was an attack on open source. “The rise of the open source community cannot be stifled by proprietary vendors. I guess not everyone’s learned that lesson,” he wrote.

Schwartz repeated the suggestion this week, only with a lot more force. “Their objectives were clear – number one, they’d like us to unfree ZFS, to retract it from the free software community. Which reflects a common misconception among proprietary companies – that you can unfree, free. You cannot,” he wrote.

In response Hitz maintained that there is a difference between unfreeing ZFS and the principle that some of it should not have been free in the first place. “If protected information does leak into open source, it will probably live forever in the web, but that isn’t the issue. To me, the issue is that large corporations should stop making a profit on protected information that doesn’t belong to them,” he wrote.

“The other thing that’s frustrating is the way Jonathan wraps himself in the open source flag. We aren’t against open source, and we aren’t even against non-commercial use of ZFS. The number one rule of open source is that you should only give away stuff that belongs to you. That is what this suit is about, and everything else is just fluff,” he later added.

That probably will not be enough to convince the open source faithful, and Schwartz played his joker with the announcement that Sun will donate half of any monetary damages won to the Software Freedom Law Center and the Peer to Patent initiative.

In terms of winning over the open source community that’s very much advantage Sun, not least since it prompted this seal of approval from Eben Moglen:

“NetApp, in bringing this litigation, has announced that it wishes to prevent Sun from sharing ZFS with the community. This conduct is a misuse of questionable patents to prevent the spread of valuable technology. Using patent threats and litigation against free software and open source communities is an abuse of the public interest the law is supposed to serve.”

Meanwhile PJ has announced that Groklaw is officially following the case and she has a few questions she’d like to ask NetApp.

So it would appear that NetApp is now the next SCO in the eyes of many, whether is wants to be or not. Is there anything the company could do to avoid such a fate?

Sun has said what it would do if it emerged victorious – some explanation from NetApp as to how it would deal with ZFS and the open source community if it were to get a decision in its favor might help.

The new open source lawsuit – ZFS

NetApp is suing Sun Microsystems over the ZFS file system technology (press release). It’s a software patent case, headed for East Texas. The problem? Sun released ZFS as open source, complicating the situation.

451 Storage Analyst Henry Baltazar and I spoke with Dave Hitz, founder and EVP of Network Appliance, briefly by phone today about the lawsuit and the implications for the open source community. Hitz is the named inventor on five of the Network Appliance patents at issue. He has posted an entry about the lawsuit on his blog – NetApp Sues Sun for ZFS Patent Infringement. Take a look. Hitz told me that this case is about NetApp and Sun, not the open source community that has emerged around ZFS, and NetApp does not intend to go after the ZFS community. That said, I can only imagine how vociferous the voices from the open source blogging community are going to be about this case. Many people were looking for an example case to represent the challenges of the software patent system when pertaining to mainstream open source projects. I think this might well be it.

Introducing the CAOS Research Service

I am pleased the announce today the we have officially launched the 451 Commercial Adoption of Open Source (CAOS) Research Service and the first CAOS Report – “Stack and Deliver,” covering the open source stack provider space. For more details on these announcements, I invite you to take a look at the two press releases that were sent out today:

The 451 Group Introduces the 451 Commercial Adoption of Open Source (CAOS) Research Service

The 451 Group Cuts Through the ‘Single Throat to Choke’ Hype from Open Source Stack Providers in New Report

Many thanks go out to Dennis Callaghan, Chris Noble, and Nick Patience, for working with me on the first CAOS Report, as well as all of you who took part in the end user survey, vendor briefings, and discussions both on and off the record. Also, many thanks go out to Rachel Chalmers for so diligently covering the open source space for The 451 Group for years and years and also authoring our special report, Cashing in on open source software, which was published last December.

I will be blogging about the various components of the CAOS Research Service in the days ahead.