Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Christopher Keene, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, Kareen Kircher

Related Topics: Open Source Cloud, Linux Containers, Eclipse, Agile Computing, Release Management , Apache

Open Source Cloud: Article

Making Commercial Open Source Software

Delight customers and profit

I recently blogged about making open source software, and the high level steps for how to think about the process. We started with the need for software to seed the discussion, the need for clear motivation as to why to publish as open source software, and then the structural requirements to build a community (license choice, collaboration platform or forge, and governance considerations). Contributions are the life blood of any community, so lastly we talked about the need to build an onramp to encourage users that will hopefully become contributors, and the additional onramp needed to make it easy to contribute.

Rory MacDonald (@technocreative) challenged in the comments that there are substantial commercial motivations for a company to develop open source projects that go beyond a desire for collaboration, and provided a number of examples.  I completely agree, and I'd like to build on these ideas.

Why as a company (rather than as an individual) would you want to "make" open source?

Again we have two types of making to consider:

  • A company can contribute to an open source project that already exists.
  • A company can create a new open source project (either by publishing existing software or creating new).

If we consider a company making contributions to an "outside" project then we should do so from the perspective that this is an advanced case of collaboration where the open source project is being used in a product or service the company offers to customers for sale. Think Red Hat and using Linux to deliver Red Hat Advanced Server.  Otherwise, contributing to a project that is used strictly in-house pretty much looks like the discussion in the previous post -- it's about engineering economics and shared innovation and living on a fork gets expensive over time unless it can be balanced against the costs of maintaining a business advantage through secrecy (e.g. the way Google used Linux in the early days).

Participating in an external open source licensed project is a case of expanding traditional corporate thinking of "build" versus "buy" to include "borrow" and "share".  It's about time-to-solution if a company uses the project in-house and about time-to-market if the project is used to develop a product or provide a service to customers for sale.  One needs to remember as a company using open source licensed software in a product or service that the company exists to solve a problem and create a marketplace around the solution.  This is all about Levitt's observations about solving customer problems ("needing a 1/4 inch hole") over selling products ("the drill").  Red Hat wasn't "selling a Linux distro" but rather providing a professionally maintained and supported low cost PC-based server replacement for expensive proprietary UNIX systems on expensive proprietary hardware.

The interesting problems when using an externally developed open source project as a company are in understanding the flow of ownership of the intellectual property with respect to the software.  There are a couple of predominant concerns:

  • What legal risks are possible that need to be managed against a company's risk profile.  This should not be taken lightly.  Companies are more interesting legal targets than individuals.  Even if a company is using the software internally rather than in a product or service, there is still a risk profile to consider.  It's not that the risk is greater than purchasing a proprietary software solution from a vendor but one needs to feel comfortable that the externally run open source licensed project has appropriate IP management safeguards in place.
  • What intellectual property is being contributed to whom. Again, companies are often uncomfortable contributing their own hard won R&D investment to others (even partners) without crisply understanding the return.

As a company each of these legal concerns comes with additional legal responsibilities.  Open source software foundations provide solutions to these problems by providing neutral non-profit space in which companies can collaborate together, and backing the space with proper IP management practices. The Apache Software Foundation, the Eclipse Foundation, the Linux Foundation (né OSDL) and the Outercurve Foundation were all created to manage the risk around these software IP problems.

The discussion becomes interesting when a company considers creating its own open source licensed projects.  Rory's examples speak to benefits.  Let's start with the motivation again.  People are often very good at understanding their "gut" motivation for doing something.  The larger a company becomes the more thought and documentation needs to go into such decisions, especially once a company goes public.

If the project to be published under an open source license is "infrastructure" for the company, then the motivations are all based on shared innovation and distributed engineering economics. This is what we see with data centre-centric projects created by the likes of Amazon, Yahoo, Google, Twitter, Netflix, or the Facebook Open Hardware Initiative.  The company starting the project is sharing work in which they have invested time and energy in the hopes that others will join the project, use it in new ways thereby hardening the software and contributing at the very least bug reports, but also hopefully extending and evolving it.

When this is the motivation, all the discussion in the previous article comes into play around making open source.  Essentially, one needs:

  • Useful software as a base around which to build a community.
  • Motivation to share, credible expertise in the problem to be solved, and an understanding of the software structure to anchor the open source community.
  • The project needs to have the structural issues of license, forge, and governance decided, even if governance becomes an evolving discussion in a growing community.
  • The community needs to build a solid onramp to encourage use, and a second onramp for users to become contributors.  The sooner this happens in a project's life, the faster it can build a community.

The additional consideration to encourage corporate participation and contribution needs to be software ownership, legal risk, and IP management around the contributions.  This is where considering using existing open source software foundations comes into play.  Corporations are far more likely to contribute their software to a neutral non-profit for mutual benefit.

But as Rory points out, there are business motivations for creating open source projects as well.  A company's executives want to "increase business" but does that mean increase leads in the sales pipeline?  Or build a community of evangelists that firmly anchor the company's products and services while providing proof points and expertise to potential new leads.

Using free and open source software in a commercial setting doesn't change the nature of running a business. One needs to clearly understand that customers buy solutions to problems and what problem the company is solving. Geoffrey Moore demonstrated some time ago that companies offering the best "whole" solution win, i.e. a core product or service and all its complementing products and services around a more complete ecosystem. This has a lot to do with shaping a "complete" solution to account for the subtle differences that customers perceive they have around the problem space.  Successful companies essentially offer a portfolio of products and services and as long as the sum of the costs of delivering the portfolio is less than the sum of the revenues (spend less than you earn), the company is profitable. Taking a portfolio approach allows a company to play with their pricing models and differentiate themselves for customers against similar competitors.

Open source software can play a number of roles in such a portfolio approach.  A company can:

  • Sell support, upgrades, customization, training and "stability" to a product that is otherwise provided as an open source project. The best example is probably Red Hat "selling Linux" when it doesn't own the core IP.  The "product" isn't the software.  JBoss tried several of these approaches before their Red Hat acquisition.
  • Sell a core product (licensed as proprietary or open source) while encouraging an ecosystem of complements from partners around open source licensed projects.
  • Allow customers to try the "product" in its simplest form as a set of unsupported unwarranted binaries for "free", i.e. downloading the community/developer editions, to self-qualify themselves in the sales pipeline.  (This was very much how MySQL built both its businesses.)

These items all speak to the delivery of the product and the pipeline.  A company can also develop a community of users of the open source project that act as a source of expertise and experience for potential customers.

A community of developers and users is an essential piece of the whole solution. Some companies develop large successful communities without ever publishing their product software. IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP have all done this to great success. This is why community building is so important for your company and why community development is an essential ingredient in your solution pitch to customers. User and developer communities (regardless of open source):

  • Anchor customers both in an engaged relationship as well as from a technology perspective.
  • Create knowledge, expertise and experience necessary to provide a complete solution for the technology pitch to the customer.  These proof points are invaluable when potential customers are self-qualifying themselves and testing the strength of a solution's community.
  • Create advocates and evangelists to spread awareness about a solution.
  • Create enormous inertia in the status quo around a technology.

These variations all rely on remembering a couple of related "rules":

  • An open source licensed project is not a complete product solution for most people.
  • Project community users and developers are not solution customers.  Community members tend to have time to spend on a solution but no money while customers have money and are looking for time-to-solution and certain guarantees.

Creating an open source project can be as simple as publishing software using an open source license, and this gives customers insight into the workings of a solution.  But if you ignore community building activities, you're losing all the benefits that come from an engaged base of customers and users of your technology.

Clearly understanding the benefits of using open source licensed software for delivering time-to-market, providing a rich complement ecosystem, and enabling communities to anchor the ecosystem in place allows a company to set its motivations correctly.  One can discuss the investment in effort as a way to understand the motivation.  We can contrast the publication of the software as open source and the effort required to develop the community against the evolution of the commercial product in terms of investment and value returned.

This also allows a company to understand the problems with half measures.  Companies sometimes treat "open source" licensing as marketing pixie dust, instead of rightly understanding its place in the solution portfolio or the need to build genuine community that will lead to solving customer problems, and ultimately delighting said customers which can be measured in profitability.  They try to limit access and only approach community half-heartedly because ultimately they're unsure of the benefits.  Fully appreciating the benefits allows a company to fully engage with both community and customers to solve problems.

Rory also mentioned the use of open source projects to undermine a competitor's margins.  This is a level of competitive play by large complex companies in well-established markets that warrants its own blog post.  We save it for another day, and instead stay focused on the commercial positives of making open source software.

More Stories By Stephen Walli

Stephen Walli has worked in the IT industry since 1980 as both customer and vendor. He is presently the technical director for the Outercurve Foundation.

Prior to this, he consulted on software business development and open source strategy, often working with partners like Initmarketing and InteropSystems. He organized the agenda, speakers and sponsors for the inaugural Beijing Open Source Software Forum as part of the 2007 Software Innovation Summit in Beijing. The development of the Chinese software market is an area of deep interest for him. He is a board director at eBox, and an advisor at Bitrock, Continuent, Ohloh (acquired by SourceForge in 2009), and TargetSource (each of which represents unique opportunities in the FOSS world). He was also the open-source-strategist-in-residence for Open Tuesday in Finland.

Stephen was Vice-president, Open Source Development Strategy at Optaros, Inc. through its initial 19 months. Prior to that he was a business development manager in the Windows Platform team at Microsoft working on community development, standards, and intellectual property concerns.

@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that 910Telecom will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Housed in the classic Denver Gas & Electric Building, 910 15th St., 910Telecom is a carrier-neutral telecom hotel located in the heart of Denver. Adjacent to CenturyLink, AT&T, and Denver Main, 910Telecom offers connectivity to all major carriers, Internet service providers, Internet backbones and ...
SYS-CON Events announced today Telecom Reseller has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Telecom Reseller reports on Unified Communications, UCaaS, BPaaS for enterprise and SMBs. They report extensively on both customer premises based solutions such as IP-PBX as well as cloud based and hosted platforms.
Smart Cities are here to stay, but for their promise to be delivered, the data they produce must not be put in new siloes. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mathias Herberts, Co-founder and CTO of Cityzen Data, will deep dive into best practices that will ensure a successful smart city journey.
DevOps at Cloud Expo, taking place Nov 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 19th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long dev...
The 19th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Digital Transformation, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportuni...
There is growing need for data-driven applications and the need for digital platforms to build these apps. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Muddu Sudhakar, VP and GM of Security & IoT at Splunk, will cover different PaaS solutions and Big Data platforms that are available to build applications. In addition, AI and machine learning are creating new requirements that developers need in the building of next-gen apps. The next-generation digital platforms have some of the past platform needs a...
Pulzze Systems was happy to participate in such a premier event and thankful to be receiving the winning investment and global network support from G-Startup Worldwide. It is an exciting time for Pulzze to showcase the effectiveness of innovative technologies and enable them to make the world smarter and better. The reputable contest is held to identify promising startups around the globe that are assured to change the world through their innovative products and disruptive technologies. There w...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 19th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - comp...
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, a director and senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, will discuss the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
19th Cloud Expo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Meanwhile, 94% of enterpri...
Personalization has long been the holy grail of marketing. Simply stated, communicate the most relevant offer to the right person and you will increase sales. To achieve this, you must understand the individual. Consequently, digital marketers developed many ways to gather and leverage customer information to deliver targeted experiences. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Lou Casal, Founder and Principal Consultant at Practicala, discussed how the Internet of Things (IoT) has accelerated our abil...
With so much going on in this space you could be forgiven for thinking you were always working with yesterday’s technologies. So much change, so quickly. What do you do if you have to build a solution from the ground up that is expected to live in the field for at least 5-10 years? This is the challenge we faced when we looked to refresh our existing 10-year-old custom hardware stack to measure the fullness of trash cans and compactors.
The emerging Internet of Everything creates tremendous new opportunities for customer engagement and business model innovation. However, enterprises must overcome a number of critical challenges to bring these new solutions to market. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Michael Martin, CTO/CIO at nfrastructure, outlined these key challenges and recommended approaches for overcoming them to achieve speed and agility in the design, development and implementation of Internet of Everything solutions wi...
Cloud computing is being adopted in one form or another by 94% of enterprises today. Tens of billions of new devices are being connected to The Internet of Things. And Big Data is driving this bus. An exponential increase is expected in the amount of information being processed, managed, analyzed, and acted upon by enterprise IT. This amazing is not part of some distant future - it is happening today. One report shows a 650% increase in enterprise data by 2020. Other estimates are even higher....
I wanted to gather all of my Internet of Things (IOT) blogs into a single blog (that I could later use with my University of San Francisco (USF) Big Data “MBA” course). However as I started to pull these blogs together, I realized that my IOT discussion lacked a vision; it lacked an end point towards which an organization could drive their IOT envisioning, proof of value, app dev, data engineering and data science efforts. And I think that the IOT end point is really quite simple…
Today we can collect lots and lots of performance data. We build beautiful dashboards and even have fancy query languages to access and transform the data. Still performance data is a secret language only a couple of people understand. The more business becomes digital the more stakeholders are interested in this data including how it relates to business. Some of these people have never used a monitoring tool before. They have a question on their mind like “How is my application doing” but no id...
Identity is in everything and customers are looking to their providers to ensure the security of their identities, transactions and data. With the increased reliance on cloud-based services, service providers must build security and trust into their offerings, adding value to customers and improving the user experience. Making identity, security and privacy easy for customers provides a unique advantage over the competition.
Is the ongoing quest for agility in the data center forcing you to evaluate how to be a part of infrastructure automation efforts? As organizations evolve toward bimodal IT operations, they are embracing new service delivery models and leveraging virtualization to increase infrastructure agility. Therefore, the network must evolve in parallel to become equally agile. Read this essential piece of Gartner research for recommendations on achieving greater agility.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Venafi, the Immune System for the Internet™ and the leading provider of Next Generation Trust Protection, will exhibit at @DevOpsSummit at 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Venafi is the Immune System for the Internet™ that protects the foundation of all cybersecurity – cryptographic keys and digital certificates – so they can’t be misused by bad guys in attacks...
For basic one-to-one voice or video calling solutions, WebRTC has proven to be a very powerful technology. Although WebRTC’s core functionality is to provide secure, real-time p2p media streaming, leveraging native platform features and server-side components brings up new communication capabilities for web and native mobile applications, allowing for advanced multi-user use cases such as video broadcasting, conferencing, and media recording.