In our recent investor relations presentations, we shared a slide “5 Reasons Why You Need More Than Just Open Source Software”. This is actually a question that comes up often, and I thought it would be helpful to provide a bit more depth to the discussion.
Let me ask you – in a word association game – what word first comes to mind when someone says “Open Source”? Do you think the word “Free”? Easy? Fast? If so, you are in the company of many others who have considered the same. However, open source is much more than that. And the business of open source technology is much more than that too.
Open source technology allows for incredible collaboration between people, communities and projects. The result is incredibly fast innovation. But enterprise needs are not necessarily the priority of the open source community.
1) Open Source doesn’t mean it’s all designed to work together.
The open source tech community is not necessarily motivated or inspired to make an integrated set of different open source technologies (projects) work together. Each team is in charge of their own project – but making it all work together, easily, seamlessly – spending time to test and certify different sets of tech together is not their mandate. The community is responsible to their members, and to the guidelines of their community – each of which can have differing rules, different codes of conduct for each project. They are not responsible to other communities and are not necessarily developing the necessary “glue” to make everything work together for an enterprise grade level of integrated functionality.
Success Requirement: Someone (usually a software vendor) who is a member of the communities, to compile different projects into a single implementable software package.
2) Open Source creates an unprecedented pace of innovation
The collaboration of open source creates an unprecedented pace of innovation, but this pace is not always compatible with enterprise business. Not every business can implement new systems or upgrade existing ones, create new processes and train people to adapt at the same pace that the community is developing at. And in fact, sometimes such a pace can be detrimental to good business outcomes where some stability is required to refine and develop best practices and outcomes.
Success Requirement: Access to multiple (possibly more mature) versions of the integrated software package to give enterprises the freedom to update to newer versions at their own pace.
3) Open Source is typically focused on the bleeding edge
Not every enterprise customers needs the leading edge, or the so-called “bleeding edge”. While the open source community continues to shift towards the next version, the newest features, the new release, it still takes time to mobilize an enterprise to adapt to the change. Enterprises may not always be on the same leading edge innovation that the open source community is on. Business critical environments may be based on more mature versions of open source tech for better business stability. Creating a balance of adapting innovative new tech with stable, more mature tech is not necessarily in alignment with the objectives of the open source community.
Success Requirement: Establish a clear new technology introduction path, usually by including an early version of the new tech as a technical preview into the integrated software package.
4) Not all needs naturally create open source communities
Some requirements – such as enterprise security and governance do not organically manifest themselves in open source communities. Only when there is an application, and integration across different technologies does this become an issue. For some needs to be met in open source, there needs to be a voice representing enterprise needs in a public forum, to foster innovation and collaboration of needs into either new or existing open source communities.
Success Requirement: An enterprise voice in the open source community.
5) The open source community is not responsible for your success
Open source means collaborative innovation that is easy to access. But easy to access doesn’t mean it’s easy to succeed. For example – almost everyone has access to a grocery store and the raw ingredients it offers. But to make a casserole, a souffle, to create duck au confit requires experience and expertise. The open source community is no more obligated to making you successful with your tech, than a grocery store is obligated to make you a great chef. To make your project succeed you need expertise; expertise than can be home-grown, hired, and/or trained. In most cases a combination of in-house staff and experts from outside who had done this many times are the best approach. Simply being able to download bits does not result in a successful business outcome.
Success requirement: Connect in house software deployment, integration and testing with outside experience, expertise, enterprise support, professional services and education.
There is much more to being successful with open source technology than just a Do-It-Yourself project of downloading and installing raw bits of technology. Hortonworks is in the business of helping enterprises harness the power of open source technology to create successful business outcomes.
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