Open Source For Me But Not For Thee

Includes: DELL, FB, IBM, RAX, RHT, VMW
by: Dana Blankenhorn

Open source is the best way to build and maintain big software projects. The more heads and hands you have on a project, over time, the more bullet-proof it can get.

Trouble is, everyone wants the maximum benefits from open source but few people want to put in the work for someone else's project. That's why VMware (VMW) went through its recent reorganization, promising to separate its open source cloud projects from its proprietary virtualization.

Open source is often the flag that's flown after failure. When IBM (IBM) failed in operating systems two decades ago, it slowly began embracing Linux, eventually unifying its whole product line under the open source operating system. The results were spectacular.

At the OSCON conference in Portland, an annual convention for the open source industry, Dell (DELL) said it wanted to do the same thing. It even released laptops that run under Linux.

While this move may lead to bad jokes among some, it's aimed at a fairly small part of the market, open source developers, and is made in the hope these developers might then contribute to Dell's ongoing cloud efforts.

Dell is backing OpenStack, originally managed by Rackspace (RAX), and Cloudera, a commercial distribution of Hadoop, for use on its servers, but there remains this key problem. Cloud technology was not designed for high-end servers, but for low-end commodity servers. Clouds built on high-end hardware are wasting money.

Point being that, if you're going to go with open source, you have to commit to it, and not use it as a way to sell any proprietary solution.

Which brings us to Facebook (FB). At OSCON, Facebook was pounding the table for open source hardware. It wants the specifications for Intel x86 systems opened up so it can plug an HP blade into a Dell chassis. That would let companies building clouds spend as little as possible on hardware, and on connecting that hardware, leaving more money for software.

That would greatly benefit Facebook, and allow it to do more in software, where it makes extensive use of open source platforms for development. But it also illustrates the problem all vendors still have with open source.

They want the benefits for me, but not for thee. Until these companies get their heads around the fact that you don't just offer open source, or endorse open source, or open yourself up to open source, but commit to it, completely, they will continue to flounder.

So who wins in all this? Companies that have committed their futures to commercial open source, like Red Hat (RHT) and Rackspace. Companies like Facebook that are fully committed to open source development and open source processes. And IBM.

Disclosure: I am long IBM.