By Alex Williams
Is Dell (DELL) becoming an open source company?
Yes, but it is not exactly being planned that way. It is bubbling up like most open source projects do. But in many respects the move to open source is also by design. Dell does not want to be a box maker anymore. That makes open source a desirable option. With open source, Dell can leverage an ecosystem of partners and developers.
Here are four examples that show the shift and why it matters to the company’s future.
PCs (Laptops): Dell turned some heads this week at OSCON with the news that it would be selling a Linux laptop made for developers. Klint Finley writes that Dell will sell a special “developer edition” of its XPS13 Ultrabook starting this fall. Code names Project Sputnik, the laptop will come pre-loaded with Ubuntu, a user friendly distribution of the open source operating system Linux (or GNU/Linux to purists). Canonical, which manages Ubuntu, worked closely with Dell in the development of the laptop. The laptop gives Dell credibility in the open source developer community. With that support, Dell can partner with a company like Canonical to build a community that can help it grow a new sector of the hardware market.
Cloud: Dell is investing heavily in OpenStack, the open source cloud effort. It is a platinum supporter which gives the company a board seat on the new OpenStack foundation. OpenStack is one of the fastest growing open source efforts in recent history. OpenStack gives Dell an opportunity to compete against Amazon Web Services and other major cloud services providers such as Windows Azure.
Software: Crowbar is an open source deployment tool developed by Dell as part OpenStack. It started as a tool for installing Open Stack, but can deploy other software through the use of plug-in modules called “barclamps.” Dell released the source code for its Apache Hadoop barclamp on Github. Software is a new game for Dell. The comlany can build greenfield apps without the drag of legacy technology. Open sourcing its software means Dell can then leverage developers and partners in the vast open source ecosystem.
Servers: Dell joined OpenCompute,a project led by Facebook (FB). It is of the more interesting projects intended to open source the data center. Dell made much of its fortune in the server business. To see it start opening its server technology is evident that Dell recognizes the importance of opening its hardware.
Dell’s open source slant is tied to its deeper effort to focus on developers. In an interview yesterday at the OSCON event in Portland, Dell’s Barton George said it is that focus which helped Project Sputnik go from skunk works to real product.
Dell is differentiating its server technology by adding technology layers that can be packaged for services providers. That may include enterprise companies that see the importance of embracing data and turning it into the “digital oil” that increasingly drives business.
It is difficult to change the DNA of a company. For a big company like Dell, it is almost impossible to go it alone. It’s unaffordable. Open source gives Dell a chance to remake itself.