Set your software free: OpenStack co-founder

Software vendors are needing to ‘hustle' organisations to buy licences these days because many firms see more value in open source and don’t care about having control, OpenStack co-founder, Chris Kemp, said at CeBIT yesterday.

Kemp said smart companies - firms like Amazon, Uber and Facebook - realise there's more value to gain from open sourcing underlying software and infrastructure than making it proprietary.

"A lot of the companies that build the software services that we consume today are literally open sourcing almost every component of the technology that they use to build these services," he said.

Kemp said this is because the value isn't in the software, it's the utility that the software provides.

“I think we have left the era where we need to buy software,” said Kemp, who was CTO of NASA and helped create open source cloud platform, OpenStack.

He told attendees that there’s no real value in the technology that Facebook uses to build its servers or analytics platform.

"By open sourcing all the technology they can create a standard, and if they get people using the technology, it creates more value for them. So Facebook has open sourced the designs of all its data centres, all its servers, and motherboards that it uses for its infrastructure.”

One of the biggest values open source brings to the industry is innovation, Kemp said.

“If we had kept the technology that became OpenStack to ourselves, if we had attempted to do what NASA had done in the past, which is to license it and try to generate license revenue from it, the value would have been significantly less than if we opened it up and created a new standard and transformed industry around it," he said.

“With open source, the more people use a product, the more people debug it, the more people contribute to it. So the more a software, project is available or the more you give it away, the more value it has to you because you are getting more contribution back, you are getting more people using it, you are creating more standards, more products around it.”

Kemp said if more companies were to "open source" software and infrastructure, they could focus more on their core product or service to innovate faster, not the supporting technology.

“Look at Guy Kawasaki and Canva. The value of Canva is in the content, the templates, the design, not in the technology that is used to render the website. And I’m sure Canva uses a number of open source technologies, and because these open source technologies were available to that company, they were able to create that so quickly and to create all the value that comes of that technology,” he said.

However, we are not there yet at living in a world where all companies are embracing open source, he said.

An example of how the ‘control freak’ approach stifles innovation came out during the CeBIT presentation, when an audience member, who works for a charity, shared her story. She was left in the unfortunate situation of having to pay Oracle US$500 a year to keep her free legal expert systems library online because it was programmed in Java before Oracle purchased Sun Microsystems.

The library was shut down, even though Java was free to use when the site was being developed and launched in 2013. It also left the charity in a difficult situation to try find an alternative open language to port the code into, which was not an easy task.


Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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