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Judith's Balancing Act

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Is an Open Computing Ecosystem an Engine for Innovation?


I have long been a proponent of open computing software. Great software can emerge when you can bring together a community of technologists with passion for accomplishing a common goal. I was asked to participate in an online debate on the topic of the pros and cons of open computing on October 29th, that is part of by IBM's Smarter Computing program  I decided to share some of my thinking about open computing and open source in this post. on "the pros and cons of open computing when it comes to cloud, big data, and software defined environments." This post outlines part of my viewpoint on this subject.

Linux is an excellent example of a successful open computing effort that has transformed the technology landscape. One of the reasons that Linux has been so successful is that the community is well managed and directed. There aren’t hundreds of variations of Linux that prevent portability of applications. There is indeed a dynamic and involved community that contributes to the vitality of the operating system.

The Ecosystem Value of Open Computing

Customers can be well served by open computing software. Well-designed and managed open source can make a significant difference in the success of businesses, software developers, and the software industry in general. Foundational infrastructure open computing initiatives can be transformational because they speed the development of new third party software companies that offer innovation on top of these technologies. Without an open computing market, each vendor striving for dominance in a market has to convince thousands of developers and product companies to adopt their innovation. Great open computing initiatives remove the economic and risk barriers. One great example is the Eclipse framework – an Integrated Development Environment originally developed by IBM. IBM donated Eclipse by formed the Eclipse Foundation in 2003. Eclipse has evolved over the years as popular open source environment platform with a broad ecosystem of third party software companies supporting the effort. Huge numbers of customers benefit from the innovation that has evolved over the years. In the era of cloud computing, initiatives like OpenStack continue to move the industry forward. OpenStack is an open source cloud infrastructure community project initiated by RackSpace and NASA. Once RackSpace turned the initiative over to the Apache Foundation, the initiative has become one of the most important to move cloud computing adoption and standards forward. There are hundreds of large and small software companies and corporations that are supporting the effort.

 
Open computing also plays an important role in bringing new innovative software ideas forward to businesses. New software innovation -- whether in the API space or in innovative customer engagement – can gain traction more easily with an open source model. Developers can experiment with new untested software without risks associated with spending the company’s money on experimental approaches. The community that supports these ideas will help vet whether the idea is the next big thing or a flop very quickly. Therefore, innovative ideas can make their way into the market at increasingly fast pace.

Not all Open Computing Software is Created Equal

While I have built a care for the great benefits of open source software, there are reasons to be careful with open source. There are orphaned open source platforms that have few supporters and few developers paying attention. If your business picks up an open source platform that lacks community support, your own environment may be in trouble. Without community support your developers may find that they have the sole responsibility of keeping this software up to date. If your business is not software, you may find this to be a burden and a risk. To be successful, an open source initiative requires strong project management. If there are simply a group of renegade developers adding their code into the pot without supervision, the project may drift with multiple and incompatible code getting into circulation. This could mean that the original value of the open source platform is lost. There have also been situations where a vendor with an unsuccessful software product decides to “donate” the technology to the open source community. While there could be value, often these vendors might see open sourcing a failed product as a way to save face. But will there be enough third party developers that care about this product enough to devote the time and energy to maintain it and innovate?

Where is Open Computing Headed?

The future of the open computing movement is complicated because of the potential to win big for vendors that donate valuable assets that are important to the whole industry. Many vendors donate software to the open computing market in order to gain a political advantage with customers. These vendors will by default have more knowledge and technical insights into the software than anyone else – at least in the short term. It is no wonder that there are often multiple open computing options in a hot market. After an initial era of confusion about which platform will win, the market will decide on the winner. Therefore, the greatest value of open computing for customers is that it promotes rapid innovation based on the decisions of thousands rather than a few smart people. Great open computing and open source has the power to convince the most important emerging software developers to use a well-designed platform as a foundation for a powerful ecosystem of solutions.

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