Like FOSS fog, cloud confusion may not matter

The general public knows little about the true technology fundamentals of cloud computing, suggests a recent survey commissioned by IT vendor Citrix. Almost a third of the roughly 1,000 U.S. adults polled thought cloud computing was related to weather.

However, the ascendance of Linux and open source software 10 years ago demonstrated that everyday people do not have to understand, appreciate or knowingly participate in a technology in order to leverage it in their lives.

Read the full article at LinuxInsider.

Need open source policy? Ask the DoD.

It’s coming up on a couple of years since I wrote about the reasonable approach toward open source software adoption put forth by the U.S. Department of Defense, which was ready and willing to use open source, but was not requiring a less-realistic all-open source or only-open source approach.

Today, we see that measured consideration of open source and its adoption has served the DoD well, given it just published a guide (PDF) regarding its experience with policy and adoption of open source software. This provides a valuable lesson to enterprise organizations considering use of, participation, increased adoption of open source software. Based on our findings that more than 60% of open source users and customers have no policies or guidelines for contributing to open source software (November 2009 survey of 1,711 open source users and customers), it is also needed.

Some highlights from the guide, titled ‘Open Technology Deployment – Lessons Learned and Best Practices for Military Software,’ which was nicely released under the open source Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License, include:

*The guide begins with a nice explanation of ‘off-the-shelf’ software, a common phrase for commercial software purchased/procured by governments, as well as explaining open source software.
*It also walks through some of the fundamentals of open source that are often overlooked or lowered in priority in favor of cost, flexibility or other advantages of open source. This includes intellectual property rights, reuse, governance, forking and licensing.
*In addition to some more technical, government-related infrastructure needs and demands, the guide does a wonderful job covering some of the more aesthetic components of open source software development and community management, including the need to be inclusive, avoiding private conversations, practice of conspicuous code review, awareness and communication of roles and dealing with rude or poisonous members of communities. One key phrase in the report that sums up the wisdom here: ‘Community first, technology second.’
*Interestingly, the guide touches on practices associated with ‘devops,’ – the confluence of application development and application deployment via IT operations. In particular, it focuses on continuous development and delivery, more rapid development and release cycles, testing, transitioning to operations and maintenance. This is another indicator of how significant open source software can be to devops, and also of how pervasive the trend is becoming.
*Finally, the guide cuts through some FUD that may persist in some circles and verticals, including the public sector, regarding open source software, indicating nearly all open source software is backed commercially and available as Commercial-off the shelf (COTS), an important classification for government adoption. The guide also differentiates open source from freeware and shareware, which are often limited both perceptually and legally in government use.

The DoD guide — which similar to its memo on open source a year and a half ago represents a pragmatic, realistic approach to adopting and using open source software — is also another indicator of the drivers, advantages and challenges of open source software, which have typically been about cost, flexibility and avoiding vendor lock-in. We are tracking changes in those drivers, advantages and challenges as well with our take on the recent Future of Open Source Survey.

It’s encouraging to see this happening with the DoD and government, which has long had procurement, procedure and policy that was typically mismatched for open source software. The situation has now changed with vendors providing more support, certification, listings and adjustment to government adoption and use. Governments, led by organizations such as the DoD, are also adapting their way of doing things so that open source, cost savings, collaboration, avoiding vendor lock-in and all of the other benefits of open source are things they too can leverage.

My coverage of the first DoD memo on open source software in October 2009 also included the idea that this policy was taking shape amid more official, above-board adoption of open source software by both governments and enterprises. This means that rather than sneaking into organizations through developers, administrators, teams and divisions — largely under the door and through the cracks — open source software is now being adopted as part of official procurement and use. This trend, which we see continuing, also means a larger opportunity for paid support, services, components and other products from vendors focused on open source software.

Open source, VC and the long path

My CAOS colleague Matt Aslett wrote recently about how we expect to see an uptick in open source merger and acquisition activity given the current economic conditions and bargains for the larger, mostly proprietary players. Matt also discusses the difficulty of further VC funding, though we have seen some significant investment announcements, such as Open-Xchange, Infobright and others. Still, Matt is probably right that funding will be harder to come by for any company, open source or not.

I also continue to see a number of startup and younger open source vendors — would-be fundees — that are opting to hold off on venture funding and stick to building up business, customers and reputation. BitRock is chief among these vendors, which see some open source counterparts on the hook for tens of millions of investment, but with an exit path that has become overgrown with previous, strategic deals that valued open source as high as we have ever seen (e.g. Red Hat-JBoss, Citrix-XenSource, Sun-MySQL, Nokia-Trolltech). The fast path to acquisition is no longer as scenic or valuable, given valuations are now down to the floor. The option of the IPO is, well, not really an option right now. So companies such as BitRock, which was considering an A round earlier this year, are sticking to the angel-funded, bootstrapped startup route and a longer path to profitability and then, perhaps acquisition or going public.

Ohloh, the open source developer and project ranking and information company that provides a site for users and developers to communicate across open source projects, is another example. CEO Scott Collison reports the company, which is healthy, is now considering its best path forward, which may or may not include funding. Collison adds that he believes the only reason Ohloh can look ahead and consider an exit path is because it has been frugal and taken very little capital.

Another open source executive whose company is going ahead with further funding says the path, end game and funding boil down to the maturity and presence of the software, with established projects, communities and now vendors leveraging widespread use to present less risk to investors. The maturity matter is also something Matt discusses. I agree and think it is the newer companies still in the process of proving themselves and their products that are proceeding without funding, whether by choice or not.

Still, if doing without venture funding becomes more common for open source-based startups, it may limit the growth and revenue we see from open source. That, in turn, may make it even harder for those that do want or need VC investment to get it, particularly if they’re open source. Then again, it may just mean that while there is less investment funding to be had, there is also less investment funding sought, at least for now.