Open Source Can Drive True Innovation and Growth

Satinder Sethi, VP, Datacenter Group, Cisco
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Satinder Sethi, VP, Datacenter Group, Cisco

Open Source: Software Development Redefined 

To win in today’s market, in which disruptive startups and nimble competitors are advancing on all sides, digitizing the enterprise to inject greater agility and promote innovation is critical. You need to transform your operating model and reinvent products, services, and business processes and business functions across the entire enterprise. Undeniably, software is a central part of this transformation. And open-source software is leading the way, because what the digital era needs are “connected economies of expertise” that can capitalize on the power of our collaborative imagination.  

The open source model enables peer-to-peer collaborative development by multiple independent sources with a faster growing and richer set of perspectives; the kind of capabilities that any one company could imagine and support alone. The real value and economic advantages of open source software have been discussed for a long time. But one of the fundamental principles of this phenomenon is the human ability to collaborate. Our collective imagination has inspired new software models and concepts that are shared with the rest of the open source community and the IT industry at large. 

  â€‹But the challenge is to mold the collective creativity of the open source community into enterprise-class, consumable, well-supported software packages that can function flawlessly across heterogeneous IT environments.   

From Linux to the Digital Enterprise  

If we take a brief tour down memory lane, open source development started with the standardization of well-established software categories such as operating systems, with the transition from UNIX to Linux being the prime example. Web servers and application servers quickly followed. More recently, the open source model has played an essential role in community-based development to create new platforms and cloud-native stacks for developers to use to rapidly build and deploy new cloud services. A main example of such a platform is OpenStack, the nascent cloud operating system selected by a growing number of enterprises and cloud providers. Today, 65 percent of OpenStack deployments are in production or full operational use (source: OpenStack User Survey—April 2016). Furthermore,  more than 58 percent of cloud adopters say that OpenStack (through both open source and commercial distributions) is important to their cloud strategies, according to a recent IDC study. 

Figure 1 - OpenStack Is Seen as Important and Correlated with Better Business Outcomes 

Source: Sponsored Business Value Extension to CloudView Survey, IDC, 2016 

Additionally, respondents for whom OpenStack is indispensable part of their cloud strategies had higher expectations about the cloud’s capability to improve strategic key performance indicators (KPIs) than those for whom OpenStack was less important (Figure 1). Specifically, OpenStack adoption is correlated with greater expectation to be able to invest “where it matters” through strategic reallocation of the IT budget and while growing revenue. This expectation is yet another data point that challenges the perception of cost savings being the main reason for the adoption of opensource models.

The case can easily be made that many of the most recent innovations in the cloud space, such as containers, have roots in the opensource movement, with its vast ecosystem. For example, today GitHubhas over 38 million projects and 15 million users: astonishingly large numbers that weren’t seen before. It is thus easy to imagine how the digital enterprise can achieve its business objectives by capitalizing on and contributing to the collective wisdom of the opensource community.

The Challenge: Enterprise-Class Products and Support

We consistently hear from our customers that they favor opensource designs, with a number of good reasons. For example, they prefer open modular architectures, they want open solutions to increase agility and reduce costs, and they understand that opensource platforms are promoting standardization at a much faster rate than traditional approaches aimed at defining industry standards.

We continue to see concrete reasons to be actively involved in opensource projects, and customers remind us about them every day. But the challenge is to mold the collective creativity of the opensource community into enterprise-class, consumable, well-supported software packages that can function flawlessly across heterogeneous IT environments. In most cases, OpenStack deployments require time and specialized skills. The number and variety of components in the setup and configuration processes can be challenging—especially in terms of security and governance. Numerous new projects and a rapid six-month release cycle make it difficult to keep up with innovation while still achieving a solid return on investment. Moreover, the community does not certify hardware interoperability. As a result, the process of coordinating support and services with multiple vendors and the opensource community can sometimes result in slower response and resolution times and higher-than-expected administrative costs.

The Importance of Vendors’ Participation and the Power of the Ecosystem

Much of the excitement about the open-source model more broadly, is tied to the increasing participation of industry giants that have been part of the open-source community for a number of years. Many vendors have recognized early on how open source software can address many of the concerns IT organizations have expressed as they make long-term strategic choices about their cloud environments.

Technology landscape continues to change rapidly and to keep up, it is important to continue to embrace community-led innovations. Enterprises are realizing that by modernizing their applications and adopting cloud native architectures, organizations can accelerate the pace of innovation and significantly reduce the time to market. Cloud Native architectures go beyond just technology stacks used in building applications. They represent a pattern of cultural, architectural, and technological choices that enable organizations to deliver software faster, with reliability and at scale. Organizations have been using continuous delivery, DevOps, micro services, agile, and efficient infrastructures such as containers in their cloud native efforts. Many of these innovations have roots in open source.

We expect open-source models to continue to flourish beyond the software arena and across a number of other industries 

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