Is Open Source Still Relevant?

open-source-logoThe other day I was in Toronto, Canada’s Pearson Airport after a long trip from Israel. I was enjoying a cold drink when I overheard a couple of guys talking tech. My ears perked up, because the words, Linux and Open Source were used in the same sentence. Cool…but then one guy said “Sure, but does Open Source really matter any more?” That got me thinking.Since I got involved professionally with Open Source in the last 1990’s I have spent a great deal of time working to promote the technical and business attributes that make Open Source appealing to any entity. I started attending the O’Reilly Open Source Convention and noticed that each and every year there were more “C” Level executives attending the show, and I mean big company executives…not the CEO of a two-man operation (not that there is anything wrong with that). I also noticed that the sessions that used to be all tech related were branching off into more business focus for those who wanted to learn about that, and the tech sessions, well, they just kept on going, but the names behind the talks got bigger…a lot bigger. The little OSCON that I attended in 2004…it grew up in a big way, and like Linux, Open Source proved that it is not some pet project in someones basement any more, and even if it was, who cares. If it works, people are interested!

Having worked both sides of the coin…Open Source and Proprietary, I have mixed feelings about this subject. First, the community behind Open Source is awesome. You will never meet a more fun, diverse, quirky, intelligent and “colorful” (clothing, hair color and tattoos) group of people. You will also not meet a more dedicated group of people who believe so much in what they are doing, many of them code for free. The quality of the product and the community are seemingly more important than the money they make from the project. What is really great is when an Open Source package gains momentum in the corporate world and it acquired by a larger entity that can put money and dev power behind it, or it turns into something like the Open Stack Foundation or the Mozilla Foundation. Open Source means freedom (I almost sound like Richard Stallman). Open Source means you have a choice, and Open Source means if you don’t like something, change the code to make it what you want. Try doing that with Microsoft Office. Not gonna happen. Open Source means making it what you want it to be rather than living with the bugs because you have no other choice.

On the flip side you have the need for Enterprise-level support in most medium to large companies, and that might not be available for an Open Source project. Let’s consider Ceph for a moment. Ceph was an Open Source product that anyone could download and run, but it was (and still is frankly) somewhat complex. Because there was real interest in Ceph outside of the OpenStack world a company called InkTank was formed and did professional implementations of Ceph. The perfect match. What happened just a few years later of course is that Red Hat acquired InkTank, and before you can blink, when people think of Ceph, they think of Red Hat. That is just one example, of course, but it goes to show what can happen. Of course I am not endorsing Ceph because when you compare if to ScaleIO, I believe that ScaleIO is a superior product in every way. ScaleIO is not Open Source though…so what is one to do?

I am a believer in Open Source. I always have been, and I always will be. But there are times when the Open Source alternative is not the best alternative. In the example above, EMC‘s ScaleIO is a workhorse that will outperform Ceph…hands down. The fact that it is not Open Source is really irrelevant. It’s the best tool for getting massive IOPS from commodity hardware without using a “traditional” SAN. It’s stable and very lightweight. If it breaks you have EMC Tech Support standing behind the product.

The bottom line is this. YES…Open Source is VERY relevant, and I am still a believer. But I am also a believer that it is not always possible to run a business using all Open Source software, and that is where proprietary software comes in. The days of the Linux wars are over, and I believe those days are over as well for the Open Source vs. Proprietary arguments. However, I need to ask one thing. Why is it that EVERY year I went to OSCON the Macs outnumbered EVERYTHING else? Just a thought…

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone.

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