Definition of devops harkens open core debates

When open source software was still getting established in the enterprise five years ago or so, there was a lot of discussion about so-called open core ripoffs. The concern was that anyone and everyone was proclaiming an association with open source software, even if most or all of their products were proprietary. Today, a similar debate has arisen about devops, a convergence of software development and IT operations for optimal speed, efficiency and other advantages.

For those concerned about misuse or abuse of the term “devops” — which has come to be positively associated with rapid releases, collaboration, efficiency and effectiveness rather than the somewhat rogue movement it was considered a few years ago — there may be some lessons in open source software that indicate the movement and the term will endure, regardless of the posers.

Read the entire article at LinuxInsider.

CAOS Theory Podcast 2012.08.17

Topics for this podcast:

*Red Hat puts enterprise cred and bet on OpenStack
*LexisNexis touts open source benefits of Hadoop alternative
*Who doesn’t love Hadoop?
*Proprietary vendors siding with open source
*PostgreSQL and its cloud, commercial opportunity
*Our Hosting and Cloud Transormation Summit NA event

iTunes or direct download (32:24, 5.8MB)

OSS support grows among proprietary players

VMware continued its embrace of open source software with its recent acquisition of open source and virtual network provider Nicira. The move continued VMware’s aggressive M&A strategy and its effort to transition from proprietary software and virtualization to a broader market and cloud computing, largely through open source software.

With previous open source software acquisitions that have included Rabbit Technologies’ RabbitMQ messaging, Zimbra email and collaboration and SpringSource, VMware seems to have found it paramount to participate and integrate with open source software technology and communities, despite its heritage as a strictly proprietary virtualization vendor.

VMware continues to back and sell mostly proprietary software and products, but its broader engagement of open source also highlights how nearly all vendors in today’s market are, at least to some extent, users or purveyors of open source software. We’ve also seen examples of how the vendors that resist open source are likely to find themselves isolated from vibrant communities if they stick to a closed technology approach.

Read the full article at LinuxInsider.

Apple, Google and the open alternative

Say what you will about Google, its open source software use, its perspective on openness or its lack of openness in some cases (and as evidenced by the links, I have), but the company deserves some credit for being — like it or not — the ‘open alternative.’ In addition to its contributions of code, developers and support to open source, Google also gets credit as the biggest, toughest ‘open’ badge wearer. Regardless of how open it is or is not, at least we have a formidable software and technology company carrying the mantle of the open alternative.

Take Android as an example. Although we continue to hear developer and vendor concerns about its openness, including recent reports it is not continuing in mainline Linux kernel development, Android continues to present the biggest challenge to Apple’s iPhone, both in terms of actual market penetration and buzz. While Android has its limitations in terms of openness, it continues to put pressure on Apple to be more open itself, particularly with its development process and application store. Much in the same way enterprise open source software vendors have put pressure on proprietary competitors to lower prices, improve support and quality, I believe Android is similarly keeping pressure on Apple to respond to concerns about its closed, controlled approach.

Now the discussion has turned to Apple’s recently announced iPad tablet device. As I indicated, I expected some type of open source response, most likely from an existing technology or effort. Where is the open alternative coming from? Again, it appears it is Google, this time with Chrome. Had it been proposed, announced or rumored before Apple’s iPad, a tablet from Google might not seem very open at all in terms of developer and partner access to source code and other aspects. However, when it sits alongside Apple’s announcement and strategy, it again becomes the open alternative.

Whatever Apple comes up with, it seems Google or somebody else or a band of competitors such as the Open Handset Alliance are ready and willing to come up with something in response. In order to make it cost-effective, fast, brandable and developer-friendly, the response also involves open source software.

This is a theme we highlighted in our CAOS special report, Mobility Matters. Part of the reason we saw real traction for mobile Linux, particularly Android, after previous false starts for mobile Linux and open source software was the array of hardware and handset makers, third-party software vendors, wireless carriers, advertising outfits and others that were all similarly focused on their iPhone response: the open alternative.

True, the concerns and issues around Android’s openness, or lack thereof, have significant implications. This is further illustration of how Google may be the open alternative juxtaposed against Apple, but by adding its own strings and closures, Google is also leaving the door open for another, more open alternative. Perhaps Palm and its WebOS are an example, but again, it seems no matter what a company or consortium does, they still leave opportunity for a relatively more open alternative.

It begs the question of how open is open enough? The answer inevitably varies for developers, consumers, vendors and enterprises, but it appears open alternatives will continue to serve as competition and counterbalance to closed technology and strategy and this is a good thing.

VMware on open source track to cloud

I have to admit, I was somewhat skeptical of VMware’s interest and outlook with regard to open source software when the enterprise vendor acquired SpringSource in August 2009. Basically, I thought VMware was more focused on cloud strategy and SpringSource’s subscription business in application development and deployment than on its open source nature. However, after its second open source acquisition of Zimbra messaging and collaboration from Yahoo! and talking further with VMware, it is clear the company — once widely known as the proprietary virtualization option juxtaposed against Xen open source virtualization — is an open source believer.

Of course, much of this occurs as Linux and open source dive further under the covers, winning placement but not notoriety in a range of consumer and enterprise uses. Nevertheless, VMware makes no secret its belief that open source software represents the fastest way to reach the widest audience, whether it’s developers in the case of SpringSource, or service providers and other cloud computing users with Zimbra. Similar to our findings for a recent report about customer and user views on open source, VMware sees primarily cost and complexity mitigation benefits from open source software. The company also cites open source as the reason Zimbra has managed growth and popularity, even in the face of Microsoft’s popularity via Exchange and SharePoint.

This is not to say VMware will be making only open source acquisitions and deals going forward as it builds its vCloud stack and story. In fact, in this regard, VMware is in a more flexible position than Red Hat, which is practically more obligated to stick to open source targets or acquire with the intent to open, as we’ve seen with some of its acquired Qumranet technology.

VMware calls the Zimbra acquisition its move ‘up the stack,’ and while additional pieces will not necessarily be open source, I expect the same cost, complexity, flexibility, developer, speed, strategic and other factors that drove the SringSource and Zimbra acquisitions will continue VMware’s focus on open source.

Updated 1/20/2010: VMware has already taken further open source steps with this announcement of vCloud SDKs supporting open source languages.

Google, Gartner pick open, closed winners

As the year draws to a close, we sure are getting some pretty sweeping assessments of open source, open standards and what openness means in today’s enterprise IT market. Google kicked things of with a thoughtful discussion of the meaning of open in today’s enterprise IT, but it included a somewhat misplaced declaration that ‘open systems win.’

We also had a thoughtful response from Gartner’s Brian Prentice, who seems to recognize the need for balance of open and closed, though isn’t it going too far to declare conversely to Google that ‘closed systems still win?’ While we’ve already gone over some discussion of whether open source has won and what that even means, I believe it is truly folly to try and pick a winner when looking at open and closed technologies. In reality, neither open source nor closed code would be what it is today without the other in enterprise IT.

One example: recent pressure on Google to open its acquired EtherPad word processor technology. I believe this situation highlights the inherent pressure to be open in today’s industry. With the advent, growth and evolution of commercial open source, customers, users, communities, developers and partners have all come to expect some degree of openness from their vendors. Similarly, open source brings with it cost savings expectations, and this has forced pricing and services adjustments for all software, whether open source or closed, open standards-based or not. In addition, we are also seeing that openness is not necessarily reliant on open source, as we recently covered.

We’ve also seen it work the other way. Proprietary vendors are increasingly adept at emulating open source, with companies such as SolarWinds leveraging true communities of developers, users and others, and forcing response from open source players. How vendors — whether it’s Google or Microsoft or Red Hat or Oracle or others — navigate and respond to these expectations and pressures is how they will be judged by customers and communities.

So while open systems may not win out every time, that doesn’t mean that closed systems should be crowned champion. This is the kind of antiquated executive thinking we still see in the industry today, albeit more seldom, thank goodness. The biggest opportunities and successes lie in balancing open source, open standards and open technology with the more traditional, closed and proprietary technology approach. To try and pick one side and rely on its success alone is a losing bet.

Strength of support models and symbiosis for free and open source software

Since we’ve been getting philosophical on the war between open source and proprietary software, free software and open source, etc., I thought I might as well weigh in with my perspective. First, I wanted to address the matter of open core, the term that refers to a software business strategy based on proprietary pieces and licensing that is nonetheless built around open source software core components.

For a good, fresh perspective on open core without running through the baggage of the term’s definition and implications, see John Mark Walker’s latest take on open core. While we at 451 Group have remarked on a trending preference for open core models among vendors and VCs — simply reporting what we see and hear and not advocating for any business or development model or license, etc. — I’m beginning to think we may be starting to see a return to support and other services, rather than commercial code and licensing, as the preferred mode to monetize open source.

While we began 2009 indicating that there appeared to be a preference among vendors, VCs and others for open core models, John Mark sets out a good challenge in asking which open core vendor owns its market? While it may indeed be too soon to tell, Red Hat has ridden the supposedly tough economy to healthy gains recently, all on its simple model of supporting free software for fees. While we often talk about different models, it is hard to argue against one that is working in the market.

In fact, at the end of last year and beginning of this year, when we did see a prevalence of attention and strategy around open core models, we began hearing less the common phrase ‘we have a Red Hat model.’ Instead, organizations were looking to monetize enhancements, extensions and wholesale different parts of code and products on top of, alongside or as the nougat center of proprietary products. Speaking to vendors, channel players and end users today, there are signs we’re seeing a return to the ‘we’re like Red Hat’ mantra of explaining and running an open source business. Red Hat has shown an ability to sustain and grow using its model, and even when it might be questioned or prodded or advised by an analyst to change slightly or dramatically, it has stuck with its model and established itself in the S&P 500 as a major enterprise IT player in the process.

Next, I wanted to address the free software and freedom versus open source and business debate. While this is, similar to open source versus proprietary, also viewed often as a ‘war’ that must have a winner and loser, it is my fundamental belief what without freedom, the ideology of free software and organizations such as the Free Software Foundation, commercial open source would be nothing more than some big vendor’s or big consortium’s latest buzzword, campaign, strategy, etc. Conversely, without the billions and billions of dollars that vendors, channel players and others are making and the costs that customers and users are saving thanks to open source software, the ideology would most likely be relegated to academia and philosophy books. Thus, the two — that is free software and the ideology and open source software and the commercial use of it — are symbiotic.

For either side to say the other doesn’t matter or that they have won is also somewhat antithetical to the reality of the situation. The ideology matters because of the business. The business is disruptive and effective because of the ideology. In true symbiotic fashion, they need one another and make each other stronger.

451 CAOS Links 2009.08.25

Terracotta acquires EHCache. SpringSource launches Cloud Foundry. And more.

Follow 451 CAOS Links live @caostheory on Twitter and
“Tracking the open source news wires, so you don’t have to.”

Terracotta acquires EHCache

Terracotta announced that it had acquired EHCache. CTO, Ari Zilka, explained the rationale, while Savio Rodrigues examined the impact on the wider caching market./

SpringSource makes an acquisition of its own
Hot on the heels of being acquired by VMware, SpringSource announced its acquisition of Cloud Foundry Inc and launched SpringSource Cloud Foundry, a new public cloud deployment platform for Java web applications.

Open source versus commercial versus proprietary. Or not.
As Seth Grimes argued that neither commercial nor proprietary are the opposite of open source, Roberto Galoppini argued that all open source software is commercial and Matt Asay noted that open source is not longer a differentiator. Meanwhile David Dennis argued against Brian Prentice’s asking whether “open source company” is an oxymoron.

See also:
“Define ‘open source vendor'”
“Further thoughts on defining ‘open source vendor'”
“Define ‘free software vendor’”, “What the OSD doesn’t say about open source”
“The right and best way to make money from open source”.

Are licenses relevant?

Zack Urlocker asked whether the choice of open source license has an impact on the business model. Bill Burke argued that your choice of open source license is “mostly irrelevant”.

SCO actually wins a court judgment (partially)
Groklaw reported that a Federal Court had confirmed the district court’s judgment that SCO Group owed royalties to Novell but ruled that the district court’s summary judgment over ownership of Unix copyrights was inappropriate. That is a matter for a jury, but as Novell noted it is not exactly clear what will happen next, given SCO’s bankruptcy.

The best of the rest
Novell’s Joe Brockmeier discussed how to build an effective community with Paul Krill, editor-at-large at InfoWorld and Ross Turk, community manager for SourceForge.

GCN reported that i4i has looked at OpenOffice and found that, unlike Microsoft Word, it does not infringe on its patents.

The VAR Guy published an audio interview with SugarCRM Interim CEO, Larry Augustin.

The US Department of Justice approved Oracle’s acquisition of Sun, while SD Times reported on Sun’s end of days.

The Mono Project announced the beta release of Moonlight 2.

Matt Asay reported that Linux is booming, but unpaid adoption may hurt vendors.

Stephen O’Grady asked “Does Copyright Matter? Or, is the End of Dual-Licensing Near?” And “Does the GPL Matter?”

Bruno von Rotz reported on the Linux Foundation’s latest research on who writes the Linux kernel. While Matt Asay noted that the Linux developer base is up 10% since 2008

Xconomy reported on Acquia and Drupal’s impact in the content management market and balancing commerce and community.

Savio Rodrigues asked whether Cloudera is to Hadoop as Kleenex is to facial tissues.

Brian Aker told Barton George that Drizzle may be production-ready by the end of the year.

Red Hat announced the launch of its HornetQ messaging middleware system.

Lucid Imagination launched LucidGaze for Lucene, a free monitoring capability.

Red Hat updated its partner program.

Zenoss Core reached the one million downloads mark.

Nambu announced that is to become an open source project.

Levementum announced an alliance with Pentaho.

Open source and cloud computing – when Worlds collide

I recently attended Open Source World, concurrent with Cloud World in San Francisco and naturally, a good place to converse on and consider the intersection of open source and cloud computing and what it means for vendors, customers and the software. I found a general consistency among views on this, but did hear some surprising input as well. Below are some points and perspectives I heard while attending the conference, with some of our thoughts on those views included.

*While IT staff may be reluctant to let go of control (and embrace cloud computing), the fact of the matter is they can’t keep up with the business side of enterprise organizations and strategies. This continues to the case for many organizations that turn to both open source software and cloud computing as tools to allow them to keep pace. Interestingly, it seems open source software is more of an established pillar, with some trepidation around cloud computing, but familiarity and generally fondness for open source software. Open source does represent cost savings and flexibility, and when it intersects with cloud computing, this includes avoiding vendor lock-in.

*Since we’re always asking about how vendors and customers typically roll out cloud computing initiatives and infrastructures, I heard a lot of talk about the cloud computing customer process. Many vendors reinforced the idea that open source has paved the way to the cloud, a topic coverd here on the CAOS Theory blog by Matt. Consider Amazon’s use of the Xen open source hypervisor at the core of its EC2 cloud offerings as a prime example. We’re also hearing more and more about internal cloud use, public cloud use and hybrid scenarios where organizations look to their own, private resources first, then use Amazon, Google or other cloud options for higher scale and heavy lifting. Many organizations don’t want to compete with the initial, large cloud players as much as they want to emulate and leverage them. A lot of folks also referred to cloud computing and its potential to take virtualization beyond the hypervisor and beyond the server so that applications, databases and data are all abstract.

*I came to the conference thinking we’re not yet seeing much in the way of actual deployment of internal cloud infrastructures, based on previous vendor and customer conversations, but heard indications it may be more of a case of early adopters not wanting to disclose their cloud plans and architectures. This is a familiar theme in open source software, where early adopters and major users can often be shy about their use of open source software for competitive or other reasons. One vendor reported that 9 out of 10 customers are going ahead with some sort of internal cloud plans. We also heard about new cloud computing providers who are picking their customers, rather than pitching to whole swaths of customers.

*Cloud computing, similar to Linux and other open source software, is also clearly emerging as a major opportunity for hosters and service providers, as well as vendors that cater to them.

*We also heard that some large IT users, such as those in academia, are accustomed to using large cluster and high-performance IT infrastructures, so they are likely to be among the early customers and users. also experience in doing this among academia and newer, emerging companies (Canonical)

*It was not all cloud computing cheerleading at the conference, as one meeting revealed some concerns that cloud computing will not sufficiently meet the needs of high-performance computing (HPC) needs. However, there was quickly a response that HPC can fit with cloud computing as it does with grid computing, where a grid infrastructure can still use reinforcement from the cloud during spikes, for example.

*There was also an ongoing theme of mixed environments, and it seems the trend will continue in the clouds, where we expect to see proprietary and open source pieces used together frequently. Open source and proprietary software used to often be a choice of either/or, but with both increasingly deployed and supported together, the choices grow and the customer gains more control. We see advantages, such as licensing costs and flexibility, in open source software and truly open standards, but we also realize there are preferences and legacy ties for proprietary software as well.

Proprietary vendors, open source communities?

We’ve written before and covered the emulation of open source software development and communities by vendors that are not open source. One prime example is SolarWinds, which recently bucked the bad economy with a successful IPO. By providing low-price, low-friction sales and promoting its community of users that work with its own developers, SolarWinds resembles many of the open source software vendors I cover. In my recent conversation with SolarWinds, the company agreed it sees an open source approach helping it harness the power of individuals, which now number more than 20,000 in terms of active, registered SolarWinds users.

Another proprietary vendor, VMware, also recently displayed an open source-like approach with its Code Central, which is intended as a place where VMware administrators can trade, compare and refine scripts. Sounds somewhat like an open source software community, but obviously there are significant differences. Still, with its free versions and communities, VMware is another vendor that, wisely, sometimes behaves like an open source player.

The larger theme here is that open source software vendors must be aware that proprietary players are copying some of their best plays. At the same time, as we have covered in reports and blogs, we see an increased pervasiveness of ‘open core’ models, whereby the vendor’s core software is open source, but is also sold under commercial licensing terms as well. I’m reminded of a recent Twitter post from Matt Asay, who overheard, ‘Most companies, both open source and proprietary, now provide both free and paid versions.’ Matt then asks how should open source software differentiate, and this is a good and important question.

Our warnings to open source vendors not to undo the advantages of open source with complicated licensing, developer agreements etc. become even more significant. Dual licensing and a commercial version is fine, as long as everything is clear and up front.

Obviously, the biggest difference between open source and proprietary vendors is the code. This is where open source advantages that might not seem tied to available, open, transparent code can really differentiate those truly focused on open source. Regardless of whether an organization wants to take the source code of an open source project and work with it, that open code is tied to other advantages. First, is the modularity, flexibility and interoperability of open source software. Second is the avoidance of vendor lock-in, which looms large in enterprise IT and particularly in cloud computing, where lock-in is among the biggest concerns.

There are still significant differences between proprietary and open source software vendors and between the different types of software, and these differences aren’t going away. However, as proprietary players continue to emulate and take lessons from open source, vendors that actually are on the open source side will have to work harder to differentiate from them and compete with them.

Open Solutions Alliance – not off-course for open source

As chance would have it, just after briefing with new Open Solutions Alliance President Anthony Gold, who also serves as VP and general manager of open source business at Unisys, I read a fairly critical blog about Gold and the OSA from Glyn Moody. I believe that Moody raises some valid points and offers Gold the opportunity to clarify the OSA’s dedication to truly open standards and openness in enterprise software later in the comments. However, I must disagree that the talk of including proprietary players in the work of making open source software more integrated and acceptable in the enterprise is something new or attributable to Gold. In fact, it was at OSCON 2007 when I talked with former Jaspersoft CTO and then OSA spokesman Barry Klawans about the changing direction of open source, much of which involved more effectively getting into the enterprise alongside and working with preponderant, proprietary software.

While I wanted to point out that I was hearing about this direction from the OSA long ago, I don’t fault Moody for questioning what this increased involvement and influence from proprietary players will mean for open source software. Still (and much of this may be attributable to the pure mention of Microsoft), I don’t think the OSA is straying from its mission of making sure the enterprise open source coals stay hot by looking to integrate with proprietary software.

Another example of where we may see more of a ‘proprietary’ or traditional influence on open source: (as brought to us by 451 CAOS colleague Matt Aslett), the new U.S. President Barack Obama administration’s request for perspective on government use of open source and its advantage from Sun co-founder and former CEO Scott McNealy. It seems some FOSS supporters would prefer Uncle Sam turn to a more pure open source executive than the prior head of the formerly more proprietary Sun Microsystems. However, it does make some sense to seek counsel from someone such as McNealy on adopting open source from a legacy and history of more traditional, proprietary software adoption, which exists in government. Similarly, Anthony Gold and Unisys have a unique perspective on what customers are asking for: open source, proprietary, both or other. It’s also worth noting here that in its member predictions for 2009, OSA executives highlight the impact and opportunities of a new U.S. administration and its incorporation of open source thinking.

During my discussion with the OSA, we talked about the changing motivations driving enterprise organizations to use open source software at all levels of their IT. While cost certainly remains a huge draw from customers, particularly in current conditions, we’ve seen other considerations high on the list of customers: interoperability with existing, legacy, often proprietary software and continuity of support; access to a community of experts; and the ability to combine open source tools. All of these are pertinent to open source vendors, including OSA members and the organization as a whole. While there is certainly opportunity in making open source software tools work well together, there is equal, if not more opportunity in making open source software tools work well with existing, proprietary tools.

A few years ago, this was typically an immense challenge for open source vendors since proprietary vendors were hardly receptive to such interoperability. Things are different today, however, and as Gold confirmed and as evident by greater interoperability among different operating systems, systems management software and applications, proprietary vendors are increasingly seeing the open source light and seeing the benefit of supporting open source components: it brings in customers.

Moody and others that sound the signals of caution and concern have good reason to do so and we do need to ensure that open standards are truly open, but again, the fact is that there is more opportunity than risk in making open source software work with whatever currently sits in enterprise IT shops, much of it proprietary.

A Halloween blog of open source fog

I like to write a Halloween-theme article or blog every year, and this year, there is no shortage of costuming and character portrayal from vendors turning up in places you’d never expect them.

The free operating system vendor? That would be Red Hat or Novell with Linux, right? Oh wait, behind that Azure mask is … it’s Microsoft, looking to give the market an OS available on demand? Well, at least until it comes out with a commercial release of Azure sometime in the second half of next year.

Oh and speaking of Microsoft, here comes someone wearing desktop dominance. Hold on … it’s not Microsoft. It’s Linux, which is using faster boot times and netbooks to inch its way toward mainstream desktop deployment, according to Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin, who has another good post about Linux in emerging models.

Another proprietary software for configuring, monitoring and managing servers would not be so remarkable if it wasn’t intended for Linux. Yet this is the case with Canonical’s Landscape software, which is included with some functionality for free in the latest Ubuntu distribution, but is also a link to paid support from Canonical.

Smartphones sure are getting more fun, and treating users to more tricks, but it’s been downright scary for mobile industry stalwarts such as Motorola, which is looking more to Linux, nor Nokia, which is open sourcing Symbian. This Halloween is marked instead by dueling ads and efforts for smartphones from … Apple with iPhone and Google with Android and G1. These players are certainly stirring some mischief in mobile.

All of this Halloween foolery just goes to show how the lines around what is open source, what is proprietary and who is selling what continue to blur. Happy Halloween.

Mobile Linux – less open, less advantage

We had a feeling this might be a big year more for non-desktop Linux, particularly for mobile and embedded uses of the open source OS. This week’s deal by Finnish giant Nokia to pay more than $400m for total ownership of Symbian so it can open the OS has stoked the red hot mobile Linux and open source coals, just in time for summer BBQs.

Our Mobility Research Director Tony Rizzo says the move may help Symbian stay in the game, but he still sees challenges in shedding the ‘Nokia’s OS’ label.

Colleague and CAOS Research Director Raven Zachary believes Symbian (a storied, widely-used OS that has seen its share of market loss to Linux over recent years) may be akin to Sun Microsystems’ Solaris, which similarly saw Linux eat away at its share. I think the analogy is acurrate since in both cases, Linux (and Windows) have taken share, but the ‘older’ operating systems still remain strong in certain niches and geographies. Still, having seen many of its summer BBQ guests leave for the Linux party (a trend aided by LiMO Foundation and Google’s Android efforts), Nokia is now telling them all, ‘Hey, we’re now serving the same kind of beer at our Symbian party that they have over there with the Penguin.’

Time will tell how cool, or warm, the response is, but the Symbian as Solaris and the old proprietary OS as new open source questions also bring up a key point in the mobile Linux and open source discussion: it’s different here. Typically backed by a vendor or consortia, mobile Linux is usually less open and more pre-configured, pre-customized, etc. compared to Linux on the server. It is typically tuned and closed, as others point out, by vendors and consortia with their own objectives. Sure, it’s still flexible, modular and more accessible for developers, embedders, and application players, but this brings us to another big difference for Linux and open source in the mobile setting: the proprietary, mobile OSs are far more open than their server bretheren. They have to be for the hardware and ISVs. These differences can contributes to reducing the open advantage of Linux and open source.

Thus, I wonder whether the most open approach would have the most differentiation, impact and payoff by virtue of its adherence to true, open source development. I believe the vendor, consortia or community that can keep that open source advantage by keeping the code and development open is most likley produce innovation, growth and profit.

Nokia, which continues a significant bet on open source that also includes its $153m TrollTech acquisition from January 2008, believes it can stem Linux losses by making Symbian more open. However, I don’t think the opportunity lies in making a mobile OS that is almost as open as mobile Linux. The real p​rize, I believe, will be reserved for the OS that is more open than mobile Linux, at least in its present form(s). This could include a more open mobile Linux. When it comes to Linux or any other mobile OS, more open means more advantage.

Does open source have a glass ceiling?

Savio Rodrigues has published an interesting post about the adoption of commercial open source software that brings together his thoughts about open source business models and suggests that commercial open source vendors may be heading for a glass ceiling.

As Savio puts it: “OSS lowers marketing, distribution, and sales costs. And yes, OSS is a great way to drive revenue from $0 to $X… s the vendor reaches $X, they have saturated Category “C” users (those with cash and willing to spend it to save time). Now, the OSS vendor must try to win with Category “B” users (those with cash, but who have been trained by the OSS community to expect value for free).”

The categorization is a twist on Marten Mickos’s statement that open source customers are split between organizations that have more time than money (community version users and contributors) and organizations that have more money than time (commercial version subscribers) and adds a third group.

Savio defines this group as “An organization that has more money than time but is used to getting what they need for free and is comfortable enough with OSS to rely on their own skills”.

Roberto Galopinni has also identified this user group, noting: “I believe that is not uncommon to see users – read potential customers – spent a lot of time (therefore money) instead of buying commercial open source products and services. Someone, somewhere in the IT department, knows how much time spends to make things work.”

Added to the problem is the dilemma that is posed by the open source support model: the better the software is, and the more expertise a customer’s IT department has with it, the less likely a customer is to pay for a support subscription.

As previously noted, Jon Williams, former CTO of Kaplan Test, detailed this dilemma at the Open Source Business Conference in March. There are essentially two ways that open source vendors can respond to that dilemma: further innovation (or keeping the product buggy, depending on how skeptical you’re feeling) and the introduction of proprietary products.

Savio is convinced that there is only one option: “The only way that you can convince these users to pay is through the same route that proprietary vendors have been using for decades; sell proprietary products.”

Matt Asay, for one, has (partially) agreed with him: “I do agree with Rodrigues that there needs to be some ‘proprietary’ hook to give would-be buyers a reason to become actual buyers. Where I think we differ is in what we’d keep proprietary.”

The subject of support has also been up for discussion as part of’s Executives Online blogathon this week, and I think it is worth noting Bob Sutor’s comment that a support subscription is essentially an insurance policy:

“Just as some people frequently re-evaluate their car insurance policies, open source support contracts should be reviewed on a regular basis. Here are some criteria:

* Was the contract ever used?
* If so, was it worth the money?
* Did users try to use communities or web search to fix their problems or answer their questions? How successful was that?

It may turn out for some open source software (indeed, for some software of any type) in your organization, purchased support is just not used or necessary. Other software may need it and it may be cost effective.”

People take out insurance policies for a number of reasons, mainly because they are obliged to or because they value the item being insured. The point at which people will no longer consider insurance is when the price of the policy is more than the perceived value of the item in question.

It is understandable that technologists assume that the differentiator that encourages users to pay for support has to be a matter of functionality (innovative or proprietary features) but it does not have to be the case.

The insurance policy angle points to another aspect to the open source support dilemma – that the more mission critical the application/service, the more likely a user is to take out a support subscription, regardless of their in-house expertise.

What do people think? Is there an open source glass ceiling? And if so, can the vendors break through it?

IT giants in open source for competition, cash

I spent part of yesterday attending the Open Source Summit at Portland’s Innotech Business and Technology Conference, and moderating a panel on ‘IT Giants and Open Source.’ We had a great discussion about the reasons, roles, responsibilities and rewards for big vendors to be acutely and adequately participating in open source software development and commercialization. Our fabulous panelists were Danese Cooper, open source diva, knitting machine and present to give perspective from Intel, Stuart Cohen of OSDL fame and current leader of startup CSI and Gerrit Huizenga, an IBM Solutions Architect working with Linux in the cloud, who when asked how to pronounce his last name correctly, politely told me, ‘Very carefully’ (Hi-zen-ga).

There was general agreement that large IT vendors, including software giants such as Google, Oracle and even Microsoft, all see a need for involvement in open source. What also emerged as a common theme during our panel was that no big vendor could afford not to be in open source in some way or another. Basically, it’s been competitive necessity and cost effectiveness that has led vendors to open source, and this helps explain why we see open source all over the place. There was also a recognition that we were not talking about what vendors might be doing or when they might be making moves around open source. We were talking about the things these vendors are doing today and where they are looking next to push the ideas and advantages of open source further.

We also talked about the responsibility of vendors, and the basic theme here was that companies better know what they’re doing with open source. Rule number one seemed to be that participation is not optional. This is particularly so when a large vendor wants to try and leverage that open source code and development for commercial gain that, in most cases, is now stretching into the billions for the big players. Panalists contemplating the IT giants and open source also pointed to the enterprise credibility that large companies can give open source software by providing commercial support. It’s true that one of the biggest inhibitors to open source use by businesses is their wariness of using software without a company and commercial support behind it. The commercial support options for open source continue to grow with SIs, OS companies, application vendors and others all providing support for more open source software. However, CSI’s Cohen contends that there is so much new open source software being created, there are not enough commercial support providers to keep up. This could mean that commercial support for open source will continue to be a challenge, but it also highlights the opportunity in supporting open source.

Another big topic was interoperability, which was my term and was pretty much broken down to mean standards in the view of our panelists. Unfortunately, there was strong agreement that today’s standards procedures and practices (ISO approval of OOXML perhaps still fresh in their minds) are not adequately promoting the kind of transparancy and collaboration needed. There was, however, somewhat of a bright spot in this discussion, and that was the recurring theme of customer demand for interoperability and truly open standards. The market is making vendors, from Red Hat to Microsoft, work harder to support and interoperate with each others’ technologies, both open source and proprietary, through truly open standards.

We discussed open source mergers and acquisitions from the view of the large vendors, and while Cooper called valuations from deals such as Citrix-XenSource ($500m) and Sun-MySQL ($1bn) signs of a bubble, Cohen contended that the value of an open source software operation is actually the same as a traditional one: the customers and relationships. I would argue that the high open source pricetags in recent M&A highlight how significant of a competitive factor these open source projects and vendors can be, forcing larger players to do some bidding and make aggressive moves.

Taking an audience question on how big software companies such as Microsoft and Oracle are viewing competition from open source, IBM’s Huizenga highlighted how all proprietary software companies are seeing more and more of their traditional revenue bases challenged by open source. This competition, highlighted in a recent study, comes with a growing audience of open source users, developers and yes, enterprises that do not pay anyone for any software, support or services, yet extend the reach of open source. Huizenga later highlighted the ongoing opportunity in open source software, referencing how IBM’s investements in Linux, far less than what would be invested in proprietary development, continue to pay off hansomely.

MySQL’s business model in a state of flux

“Sun to Begin Close Sourcing MySQL” screamed the headline on Slashdot last night. The headline is not entirely accurate (although slightly more accurate than the bizarre statement that “Sun has had a very poor history of actually open sourcing anything”).

So what is going on at MySQL? To get to the bottom of that you have to weave together a number of posts and comments from a number of sources. First the article behind the Slashdot headline:

“Just announced: MySQL to launch new features only in MySQL Enterprise,” states Jeremy Cole, which is a much more accurate description of the state of affairs. “MySQL will start offering some features (specifically ones related to online backups) only in MySQL Enterprise. This represents a substantive change to their development model — previously they have been developing features in both MySQL Community and MySQL Enterprise.”

Marten Mickos confirmed Jeremy’s post in the comments section, stating: “In 6.0 there will be native backup functionality in the server available for anyone and all (Community, Enterprise) under GPL. Additionally we will develop high-end add-ons (such as encryption, native storage engine-specific drivers) that we will deliver to customers in the MySQL Enterprise product only. We have not yet decided under what licence we will release those add-ons (GPL, some other FOSS licence, and/or commercial).”

So to clarify. Sun (or MySQL) is not going to begin closing the source code of MySQL features, but it is going to introduce new features into the Enterprise Edition that will not be available under an open source license.

To some extent there is nothing new here. The company previously announced that the Standard Edition of the recently introduced MySQL Workbench would include functionality not available in the open source Community Edition, while the MySQL Enterprise Fall 2007 release saw the availability of replication monitoring and advisory functionality only available with the Enterprise subscription.

Before that the company introduced Network Monitoring and Advisory Services with the Enterprise version in October 2006. Additionally, MySQL removed the Enterprise tarballs from its community ftp site in August 2007.

Mickos also responded to the Slashdot post itself; pointing out that “the business decision on this was made by MySQL AB (by me as the then CEO) prior to the acquisition by Sun, so this has nothing to do with Sun” and that “everything we have released under GPL continues to be under GPL”.

In a later comment he added: “If the world were perfect, we would only produce GPL code and we would have a great business that can fund the software development. But we have found that the world is not perfect. We have been experimenting with a variety of business models around FOSS (dual licensing, support only, simple subscriptions, different binaries for community and enterprise, non-open source features) to find the best one. And we will continue to experiment until we are satisfied. We need to find a model that allows us to produce a ton of great code under GPL while having the financial strength to do all this.”

I was reminded of an article Mickos himself wrote in 2006 about the 13 different business models used by open source vendors (the original article appears to have vanished but you can see my response to it and a list of the business models here).

From this list it is clear to see how MySQL is in the process of moving from “3. Software is free but if you embed it in closed source, you better pay a fee (Trolltech, DB4Objects, Funambol, MySQL, etc.)” to “6. Software is free but some enterprise features are not (SugarCRM, Zimbra, JasperSoft)”.

Of course, whether you believe this to be the correct model for MySQL is another matter, and Matt Asay for one would prefer to see MySQL opting for “5. Software is free but on-going maintenance, monitoring and provision of binaries is not (Red Hat)”, which is the direction the company had appeared to be going in.

The fear, as far as the community users is concerned, is that MySQL might end up using “7. Software is free but we built a closed-source product around it (EnterpriseDB, GreenPlum)”. However, given Sun’s business model is “9. Software is free but we sell everything else on the planet, including closed source software (IBM)” there appears to be little chance of that.

As Matt also notes, the problem MySQL has right now is a public relations problem (or a community relations problem). Given that there does not appear to be a vast change in strategy (despite the headlines this is a bend in the road rather than an about turn), this should not pose a long-term problem for the company.

Zack Urlocker has also clarified the situation here.