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!

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!

The bamboozle is over: Google’s Mantra is BS

Google is scary on many fronts; from the information they collect about their users to how they use their size/power to bully their way into markets.  While Platen has written about the evils of advertising based services and the power that Google (and Facebook) hold over their users, the mainstream media and “Wall Street” are in love with GOOG.  Why?  They are a money making machine with a cult-like following.  Search has become synonymous with Google.

What has Google really done?

Google Search and AdWords puts Inktomi out of business…YES
Google Mail ends Yahoo Mail’s dominance…NO
Google Docs ends Microsoft’s Office dominance…NO
Google Talk ends Skype’s dominance…NO
Google Chat ends Yahoo/AOL IM’s dominance…NO
Google Chrome ends IE/Firefox’s browser dominance…NO
Google Android ends iPhone’s dominance…NO
Google YouTube ends Hulu’s dominance…NO
Google Books ends Amazon’s dominance….NO
Google Nexus One ends iPhone’s dominance…Any bets?…NO
Google Orkut ends (take your pick)’s dominance…NO
Google Chrome OS ends Linux/Microsoft’s dominance…Any bets?…NO
And the list continues…

Has Google made a strategic mistake?

While Microsoft continues to fight Google on many levels, they are too polarizing of a company to be a fanatical threat to Google.  However, the same cannot be said about Apple.  Apple users are incredibly loyal, fanatical, and growing.  Additionally, Apple already has what Google wants and needs; OSX, iPhone, iPad, and i(whatever they want to build).   Google sees the future; it’s in mobile devices and owning the mobile OS and/or advertising platforms.  Apple has the devices, the store, and the platform to dominate.

After Steve jobs said, “…This don’t be evil mantra: It’s bullshit.” Google’s world is very different.  With a single OS upgrade, Google search becomes a memory on the iPhone.  Or, with a single purchase, iSearch is born.  Or, …

As Carl Sagan said, “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle.  The bamboozle has captured us.  Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”

Google isn’t a non-for-profit, they aren’t the Gates Foundation; instead they are like any other corporation that seeks to maximize profits and shareholder value.  However, while IBM sells services, Cisco sells hardware, and Wal-Mart sells goods, Google needs YOUR personal information, YOUR habits, YOUR mood, YOUR clicks, and more to make money via advertising.

The bamboozle is over.

2009: We Fooled You

As 2009 comes to a close, below is my very incomplete list of top “we fooled you” moments of 2009.

  • Cloud Computing trumps everything
  • Virtualization renders the OS irrelevant
  • Google “does no evil”
  • Cisco can’t grow or compete
  • Outsourcing isn’t forever
  • Chrome is better than Firefox or IE
  • Storm / Android beats the iPhone
  • Bobby (Foundry) would never sell
  • Huawei will falter
  • HP can’t catch IBM
  • IBM wouldn’t get back into networking equipment
  • Sun is dead
  • Open Source Software kills ISVs
  • Open Source Hardware dominates storage
  • Free Software – LOL
  • PBT vs. MPLS
  • Nortel would be saved
  • Web vs. traditional advertising
  • Juniper would never enter switching
  • Oracle is just a database company
  • Apple vs. Microsoft
  • Dell doesn’t care about services
  • IPOs are dead
  • Facebook is a fad
  • LTE is years away
  • Cisco UCS crushes HP, IBM, Dell, and more.
  • Business Intelligence wars would end
  • IPv6 – enough said
  • All start-ups need traditional VCs
  • Internet / IP Security is solid
  • Google Apps ends the need for Microsoft Office
  • Yahoo is dead
  • Linux Desktop vs. Apple and Microsoft

2009 was both an exciting and frustrating year for technology.  The battle lines are drawn for 2010 and I’m looking forward to a great and surprising year.

Happy New Year!

Note to Juniper: Wake Up!

If anyone knows how to compete against Cisco, it’s Juniper. Juniper redefined core routing and forced Cisco to re-invent their aging portfolio of core devices. My affection for Juniper runs deep. From the outside, I marveled at their ASIC designs, the elegance of JUNOS, and the sheer power of their devices. From the inside, I learned first-hand how talent, hard-work, and passion for an alternative vision of networking can lead a company to not only battle but win against Cisco.

However, since Juniper’s acquisition of NetScreen in February of 2004, and subsequently their yearning for a piece of the Enterprise pie, Juniper is beginning to resemble a long list of Cisco challengers. As Benjamin Franklin said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Unlike Cisco, Juniper has been either resistant or hesitant to complete their portfolio via acquisition. For example, while Juniper was in dire need of a switch they chose to develop it internally rather than purchase companies like Foundry or Extreme. Subsequently, Juniper has been forced into a best-of-breed scenario whereby they partner with other companies to provide end-to-end solutions. One such example is their partnership with IBM.

Meanwhile, both Cisco and HP are driving towards a one-stop-shop model of providing all the hardware, software, and services required to implement and maintain their respective solutions. Given the success rate of this strategy, IBM may be forced to join Cisco and HP. The danger to Juniper is they simply cannot match the Enterprise reach of these massive companies or the breadth of solutions they offer.

Finally, Juniper is light on public/private cloud computing solutions. Juniper needs to evaluate storage networking, an answer to Cisco’s UCS vision, virtualization, and management solutions. Of course Juniper touts their Stratus Project and just signed another OEM relationship with Dell to team on data center technology. However, Juniper has done this before; remember the Infranet?

In the end, Juniper may end-up being purchased by Dell or IBM. Or, Juniper can get back to their roots by innovating and disrupting the market. Why follow Cisco and HP’s lead? Offer a viable alternative to their strategies. Develop, market, and deploy a real datacenter fabric built on Ethernet and chalk filled with MPLS. Create a new type of Router that can handle the shear speed, QoS, and security requirements of the next generation backbone.

Come on Juniper, Wake Up!

AT&T & iPhone: “Can you hear me now?”

AT&T Wireless has become the company that we love to hate.  After-all, they are the 2nd largest wireless carrier in the United States and maintain exclusive rights to the Apple iPhone.  Furthermore, we are bombarded by advertisements from Verizon poking fun at AT&T with their clever “can you hear me now” advertisements based on the quality of their wireless network.  How can poor AT&T even dream to compete against Verizon?  For goodness sakes, Verizon scared Sprint right out of the core network business.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a currently an AT&T wireless customer and I am completely addicted to my Apple iPhone 3G.  Like many iPhone users, I find myself using the “phone” less and less and instead rely on AT&T’s 3G network for data transmissions.  For me, the iPhone is an extension, and in some cases a replacement, for my laptop.  While I have experienced issues with both Apple’s software and the AT&T network, I understand AT&T’s challenges and I am thankful they are spending both the time and money to correct those issues.  Is Verizon’s network up to the iPhone challenge?

It is time to find out the answer to that question.  I propose that AT&T renegotiate the terms of their exclusivity agreement with Apple to allow Verizon to offer the iPhone on their network.  AT&T would maintain exclusive rights to all next generation iPhone models (4G, 5G …) for x number of months.  This would allow AT&T to keep a competitive edge on Verizon while giving consumers greater choice and providing Apple access to the number one wireless provider in the United States.

Additionally, it has the potential to bring Verizon’s network to its knees.  While Verizon’s network is impressive, it has never seen anything like the traffic iPhone users generate.  Verizon would be saddled with the same growing pains that AT&T experienced with one difference, “can you hear me now.”  Initially, Verizon would gain some high volume customers from AT&T while watching a significant percentage of their base switch to the iPhone.  Let’s face it; Verizon’s phones are boring at best.

After this initial spike in subscribers, the real fun begins.  Verizon’s iPhone users will begin to complain about similar issues to the ones that AT&T users have experienced; poor battery life, dropped calls, no rings, slow network, no network available, no data available, and more.  Verizon’s customer care will see their call volumes spike and their customer satisfaction numbers will fall.  Finally, “can you hear me now” will become a thing of the past and we’ll see Verizon’s CEO walking through the park apologizing and promising they can do better.

Finally, the emperor will have no clothes and all eyes will be focused squarely on Apple.  Apple will be forced to clean-up their act by providing more reliable software and introducing better hardware in their newest iPhone models.  Who does that benefit the most? AT&T (see above exclusivity agreement).  In the meantime, AT&T will have spent billions of dollars upgrading their network using the lessons they have learned to provide a superior experience via their network.

“Can you hear me now?”

Is Cisco for or against automation?

Cisco has long understood the need to market to the Executive/Board Room as-well-as to the Network Engineer; Wall Street and Main Street.  Throughout the years, we have watched John Chambers and company move from an obscure little company to the bell weather of high technology.  Additionally, we have watched Cisco’s certification program move from an obscure “nice to have” to the gold standard of networking professionals.

Today, Cisco Certified X (CCx) is not only obtained by network engineers, but by sales, marketing, and other executives alike.  Why?  Simply put, CCx materials give individuals an excellent education on just about any modern day network infrastructure; routing, switching, cable infrastructure, and more.  Whether or not you take the test is usually based on career/industry advancement (who pays) as well as personal preference toward certifications.

Of course, Juniper Networks has a program of their own and offers a demanding certification called Juniper Networks Certified x (JNCx).  However, Juniper does not have the breadth and depth of products or the market penetration of Cisco, particularly in the enterprise.

The brilliance of Cisco’s certification program is twofold; it gives network engineers a career path and it provides Cisco an army of loyal and trained users.  Resellers and Customers were willing participants in training thousands of network professionals proudly displaying their CCx’s on desks and resumes.  In fact, some companies base career advancement, bonuses, and salary grades on the level of certification that one obtains.  A byproduct of this has been the elevation of Cisco’s IOS CLI to the standard of networking devices; a fact that Juniper continues to fight everyday with JUNOS.   In-turn, this creates bias and a competitive advantage for Cisco vs. competing devices because it’s “just IOS or an IOS derivative” and I know that already.

Today, the winds of change may be blowing as Companies are realizing the economic impact of this system.  In a way, organizations around the world have subsidized Cisco’s growth by providing the means for their staff to become a CCx to the detriment of their bottom line.  This includes hiring of individuals with top-of-the-line CCx certifications, paying for training, paying for tests, promotions, and losing certified individuals to rivals or other organizations.

Compounding the need for CCx or JNCx certifications is the utter lack of automation within the networking industry.  Enterprise Management Systems are inadequate, PERL (the adopted language of networking) knowledge is not easy to find and a bit too powerful for many and third party Network Change and Configuration systems are fighting the commodity label.

In a world where the ratio of network engineers to network devices is ever increasing and the notion of single-vendor (Cisco Powered) deployments is losing steam, why do we accept the idea that manual intervention is the best way to manage our networks?  Why are CCx or JNCx working on less complex activities?   Why are operations personnel beholden to the networking engineering teams?  What good are BPM and BRE if the end result is a human rather than an automated action?  Why allow a PERL developer to be in command of complex changes without guardrails, auditing trails, or (in some cases) networking skills.

Companies are beginning to realize that automation within networking will improve operational efficiencies, reduced downtime, improve SLAs, and reduce MTTR.  They are awakening to the fact that the best use of a CCx is not to be turning up or down ports or building initial configurations; instead it is performing advanced troubleshooting, deployment, or visionary functions.

Automation is paramount to cloud computing, PAAS, SAAS, or whatever else you want to call it.  We can no longer allow networking, or storage, to be the last bastion of manual over automated management.  For a datacenter to be truly cloud-like, most activities across the OSI stack must be automated.   Perhaps, networking is the most important piece as without it nothing works.

It is time for Cisco to get serious about network, storage, server, and security automation.   What happened to the early ideas of a self-managing, self-healing, self-defending network?  If Cisco wants to transform itself into a software company, then transform network management into true network automation.

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