Myth Debunked: Open Source Equals No Vendor Lock-in

As an open source advocate and former head of a successful open source project, I find it troubling that there is a trend within the industry of declaring “no vendor lock-in” for open source or commercial open source solutions.  In fact, this trend is not limited to one segment of the open source ecosystem as projects from databases to platforms are jumping on the bandwagon.  The inference is that by publishing source code and developing in the open somehow magically erases the age-old problem of vendor lock-in.  Additionally, this argument is used against the “legacy” or the most successful software and hardware companies in the world as a differentiator.  Unfortunately, this is a false argument as open source does little to remove the age old issue of vendor lock-in.  In actuality both vendor lock-in and technical (tech) lock-in exist.

While many open source projects begin with an altruistic goal, commercialization is inevitable.  This commercialization leads to everything from professional services or support to a full blown commercial products including legal indemnification and additional commercial only features.  Once a company purchases licenses from these commercial open source companies they become subject to the normal cadence of software releases, bug fixes, support, and more.  Just like their “legacy” counterparts, commercial open source companies depend on paying customers for revenue and must differentiate themselves from the open source project.  Take it from me, the number one question that customers ask a commercial open source vendor is “what’s the difference between the commercial and open source solution?”

But, what if a company never purchases a commercial open source license?  Aren’t they vendor neutral and free to do whatever they want?”  Here in lies the heart of the argument regarding open source and vendor lock-in.  While it is true that you aren’t legally bound to a single company, you are still locked-in to the open source community itself.  In the case of a large and vibrant open source project such as OpenStack, you are part of a large and diverse community consisting of users, commercializers, and corporations of every size.  In the case of a project such as MongoDB, the majority of contributions come from a single-source, 10Gen, which is a commercial company.  In either case, you are still vendor locked-in but vendor is replaced by community and you are subject to whim of the developers, committers, governance, and leadership of the projects themselves.

Whether you choose to use an open source project or pay for a commercial open source solution, you cannot escape the phenomenon known as tech lock-in.  Once you develop an application or solution that relies on an open source project, commercial or not, it is very difficult to switch technologies.  Imagine Rackspace switching from OpenStack to CloudStack, a move which would result in years of lost development and testing time followed by a period of risky technical and business challenges.  Or, imagine writing a customer facing application on MongoDB and then deciding to move to Cassandra.  It’s a daunting task fraught with risk, development time, and countless hours of testing.  While you may claim there is no vendor lock-in, the tech lock-in is enormous and the result is the same; you can’t easily escape your choices!

Finally, I hear from open source pundits that by the very nature of publishing a project’s source code equals freedom from the tyranny of large independent software vendors.  However, many open source users never look at the source code nor do they contribute to the projects themselves.  In fact, enterprises that value the open source solution will seek its commercial entity.  These companies aren’t in the business in building a DB or platform; instead they are developing and selling software applications or manufacturing goods and services.  Of course there are exceptions of companies that develop and extend the open source solutions for their own use.  A great example of this is service providers that are involved with developing or extending OpenStack.  These companies cannot purchase an off-the-shelf OpenStack solution and must extend and create secret sauces for their own use of the technology.  However, enterprises are looking at companies such as Red Hat to do for OpenStack what they did for Linux, commercialize it.

In the end, open source is a wonderful development model and there is nothing more powerful than being a part of an open source community.  However, open source cannot solve the age old issues of vendor lock-in or tech lock-in; Myth Debunked!

Amazon vs. Google vs. Microsoft vs. Rackspace vs. ?

Nice article by Brandon Butler at Network World

Analysis: Like it or not, Cloud is finally upon us.  Enterprises, Service Providers, SMB, and more are finally evaluating, deploying, and utilizing cloud technology to reduce costs, improve agility, and provide strategic value to the business.  The battle between Google, Amazon, Rackspace, and Microsoft sounds like a great race, but the reality is Amazon is lapping the competition.  Amazon continues to innovate at a velocity that I have never seen in this industry.  Meanwhile, Rackspace is forced to play catch-up by developing on an immature platform (OpenStack) and must create new functionality to compete.  Microsoft seems distracted but continues to do a nice job transforming their company and I expect them to easily win the Windows PaaS segment.  Finally, Google is the threat of all threats as they have the scale to rival Amazon but they lack a successful enterprise track record.

Why Billion Dollar Red Hat and OpenStack Need to Dance

On Februar 29, 2012, Red Hat’s fiscal year came to a close and they are expected to cross an important milestone; becoming the first billion dollar commercial open source software company.  Whether or not you believe they are the first open source software company to cross this mythical threshold is inconsequential, the fact is Red Hat has done it.  With all my sincerest respect and admiration, I tip my “red hat” to this historical accomplishment.

With all due respect to other Linux distributions such as Canonical (Ubuntu) and SUSE, Red Hat is the de facto standard for Enterprise Linux.  They have a reputation for building a quality product, have a stable of certified applications from leading ISVs, maintain a “Cisco-like” army of certified professionals, and provide long term support for their products.  Unlike the early years of their business, Red Hat’s biggest threat does not come from a new operating system challenger ala Microsoft; it comes from virtualization vendors with all eyes on VMware, Microsoft, Citrix, and Oracle.

The good news is that Red Hat foresaw this threat and purchased Qumranet in 2008, which created kernel-based virtual machine or KVM.  The bad news is while VMware grew to a virtualization powerhouse, it took Red Hat until January 2012 to release a real challenger within Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization 3.0 (RHEV3). With this release, the next chapter in Red Hat’s history is unfolding within the Cloud era.

Meanwhile, OpenStack is nothing short of an amazing story of the power of open source and of community.  In July 2010, Rackspace and NASA jointly launched OpenStack and less than 2 years later OpenStack has the backing of over 150 companies with names like Dell, AT&T, HP, Citrix, and more.  Additionally, you’ll find the likes of Canonical and SUSE, but Red Hat is noticeably absent.  However, is Red Hat really that far away?

All one has to do is open OpenStack’s Administrator Manual and you will find instructions on “Installing OpenStack Compute on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6”.  Also, looking closely at the list of contributing companies you will find Gluster (one of my favorites), a project acquired by Red Hat on the list.

In the battle for virtualization supremacy, OpenStack is a vital weapon against the competition.  Sure, Red Hat has Aeolus and Deltacloud, but what would the world look like with a RHEO (Red Hat Enterprise OpenStack) edition?   Wouldn’t such a release accelerate OpenStack’s rise in the Enterprise while opening up a new revenue source for Red Hat?

Before any of this can happen, Red Hat and OpenStack must dance.  Sure, there are reports that early on Red Hat was invited by Rackspace to join OpenStack but they refused due to its governance model.  However, things have changed as Rackspace has transitioned management of OpenStack to an independent OpenStack Foundation with a defined mission and structure.  Can Red Hat and OpenStack unite under this new model?

Perhaps the final piece of this puzzle will end with a Red Hat acquisition within the OpenStack ecosystem.  Without naming names, there are at least 2 attractive take-over targets that would give Red Hat the development expertise and OpenStack credibility to be a force.

As John Lennon famously wrote and performed in “Imagine”; “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one, I hope some day you’ll join us, And the world will be as one.”

Red Hat and OpenStack, let’s dance!

Originally posted on

Floyd’s Law: Open Source vs. Proprietary Software

As the pace of innovation continues to accelerate, it is increasingly impossible for legacy software vendors to maintain pace.  Professional services organizations are pushed to the brink as they attempt to fill product gaps only to find that they are further and further behind the innovation curve.  Customer frustration is increasing as these projects never end, product innovation never comes, and maintenance costs continue to increase.

Open Source, free of the legacy baggage and bureaucracy of their traditional competitors, is the only model that can keep pace with the accelerating rate of change in the industry.  In fact, Open Source is the disruptive force that continues to break-down legacy paradigms and offer new and disruptive solutions.  As commercialization of Open Source is inevitable, the key is remaining true to the principals of open source while providing customers the innovation and value they desperately desire.

Buying a Cell Phone is Worse Than Buying a Car!

These days it seems that all I ever talk about is Cloud computing and Cell Phone operating systems.  As a contract-free AT&T customer, I should relish in my freedom to choose a new carrier or smartphone, yet instead I revel in cell phone indecision.

While Apple makes a wonderful and polished operating system (iOS), their ecosystem is both closed and proprietary.  After all, these are the same guys that won’t let me change a simple battery!  Another problem with the iPhone 4S is that the form factor.  It just isn’t very pleasing, especially when compared to its alternatives.  How about all those cracked screens out there?  Of course, iTunes is awesome and iCloud has some exciting possibilities.

Meanwhile, Android has come a long way in a short time.  It’s not nearly as polished as Apple’s iOS, but has many innovative features and is open source (kind of).  However, Android is experiencing tremendous fragmentation and is at the mercy of the Cell phone makers themselves.  While Samsung makes great phones, they have been slow to upgrade to the latest Android versions.  Also, what will they do now that Google is purchasing Motorola?  Speaking of Motorola, they seem like a safe bet since Google is purchasing them, but their less than stellar earnings results don’t instill confidence in a purchaser.

Finally, Windows Phone 7 Mango is lurking around.  It’s a blend of Apple’s polish with Android’s innovation, but has suffered from lackluster hardware and non-existent applications.  However, with Nokia’s recent announcement of 2 new Windows Phone 7 phones, there is some excitement that this may change.  What Microsoft needs to do is focus on the development community.  I’m not just talking about porting over existing applications, as they need some originals too. Of course, Microsoft has a really nice integration with iTunes, Office, and a slick SkyDrive offering.

Some would say I need to add Verizon vs. AT&T vs. T-Mobile vs. Sprint to this discussion, but I’m not really dissatisfied with AT&T.  In fact, the ability to use both data and voice is something I wouldn’t want to live without.  For now, I’ll leave this for a later discussion.

So, do you buy a new Samsung Galaxy S II, Nexus II, or Motorola Droid Razr or wait for the iPhone5, Nokia 800, or whatever else is yet to be announced?  Of course, in technology you can keep waiting and waiting and waiting because what you buy today is obsolete tomorrow.  Any thoughts?

Yahoo: Goodbye Bartz Hello Baidu or Apple

In yet another mystifying move, Yahoo’s board fired Carol Bartz and ended her three year tenure as CEO.  Over the last three years, Bartz has had to clean up after the less than stellar leadership of both Jerry Yang and Terry Semel led to revenue slowdowns, management bloat, product missteps, and who knows what else.

While I’m saddened to see Bartz go, I’m more aggravated by the ridiculous articles and blogs regarding Yahoo’s past, present, and future.  Note to the mainstream press…Yahoo IS NOT Google.  Yahoo is NOT Facebook.

Yahoo IS an Internet icon, a portal destination, an information and communications hub, and is chalk full of popular services and offerings.  Often seen as less innovative than Google, Yahoo has made meaningful contributions to Hadoop and has recently open sourced Traffic Server which was acquired as part of the Inktomi acquisition.

I see two paths for Yahoo; Baidu and Apple.

Baidu has grown into a formidable challenger to Google.  For Baidu to take the next step they must enter the Western marketplace and Yahoo would be the perfect vehicle to make this a reality.  A cash and talent infusion by Baidu would reinvigorate Yahoo giving it new life to innovate and disrupt its way to revenue growth.  It would also mean an end to Yahoo’s partnership with Microsoft (or would it) as well as new competitive efforts across traditional and mobile solutions.

Apple is a dominant force within the mobile/tablet community and Yahoo would make the perfect destination for their users.  With one brush of the pen, Yahoo would be folded under the Apple brand and would change the perception of Yahoo from old/dying to new/exciting.  Apple could use Yahoo as a platform for iCloud services and revamp Yahoo’s offerings to work seamlessly within iOS and OSX.  Additionally, Apple could use Yahoo to offer new and innovative Cloud services and accelerate the adoption of HTML5.

In the end, Bartz will come-up a winner in this mess as her honesty and toughness is refreshing.  However, the future for Yahoo may be bright as long as the Board realizes it’s time to turn the reigns over and sell the company.  Let’s hope they don’t turn down an offer like they had from Microsoft again and Yahoo finds a new home!

OCI’s Relevance within an Amazon and OpenStack World

Last week, yet another Cloud initiative began as the Open Cloud Initiative (OCI) launched from OSCON 2011 in Portland, Oregon.  The OCI bills itself as a non-profit organization to advocate standards-based Open Cloud Computing.   The OCI hopes to provide a legal framework based on the Open Cloud Principles Document (OCP) and apply them to Cloud computing products and services.

While conspiracy theorists will call this the “One Cloud” movement, the reality is there is little to worry about.  An OCI without Amazon, Microsoft, Verizon, AT&T, and more isn’t really an assembly of “leaders of Cloud computing” but more of an ideology.  Academics and Open Source aside, there is very little motivation for Cloud providers to work together other than standard connectivity and a few APIs.

The biggest force in promoting the OCI’s self-proclaimed slogan of “A non-profit advocate of open cloud computing” is actually another truly powerful Open Source Movements called OpenStack.  As OpenStack adoption continues to increase, they may become the defacto standard for building Clouds.  OpenStack is the core platform that allows Enterprises and Service Providers to build value-added software and/or services to create new and unique offerings or businesses to their customers.

It is the difference between “talking” and “action”.  While some in this industry like to debate the merits of Cloud computing and interoperability, others are creating and innovating.  I have already mentioned the OpenStack movement and its importance to Cloud computing, and no conversation on this subject would be relevant without talking about Amazon.

Amazon is rapidly innovating within Cloud computing while continuing to disrupt the industry, drop their published prices, and make money.  Instead of getting caught up in all this debate, Amazon is setting their agenda and putting the entire industry on the defensive.  In fact, their rate of innovation is astounding while their rate of adoption is actually accelerating.  What is their motivation to interoperate with other Cloud providers?  As long as they have open and defined APIs into the private clouds (VMware, Microsoft, Xen, KVM) of their Enterprise customers, then they are all set.

Altruistic goals cannot be confused with the capitalistic reality of the world we live in.  The OCI may have great intentions, but they plenty of work to do to make themselves relevant within an Amazon and OpenStack world.

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