At a Rackspace hosted event in London this week titled Open Source is Eating the World (a play on venture capitalist Marc Andreessen's seminal Software is Eating the World essay from 2011) panelists generally agreed that open source has managed to infiltrate the enterprise, but talent remains the biggest barrier to a successful open source strategy.
First, a quick catch up on how we got here. Open source is the technique of releasing the underlying code for a piece of software so that other developers can examine, modify, and reuse it for themselves. This is different from the old model of locking into a vendor's proprietary software via a licensing agreement, and taking that software as it comes.
The biggest digital economy companies of the past decade are built on open source principles, and the technology has now infiltrated the enterprise and even government, with the US government committing to 20 percent of all of its code being open sourced on August 8.
Martin Percival, senior solutions architect at Red Hat, sees an open source culture as a key differentiator when it comes to hiring talented developers into the enterprise. He said: "Companies are increasingly using the fact they have a development team inhouse as a way to attract the best talent possible. The brightest minds coming out of universities all want to go to Google. But they don’t take many. They need to find somewhere to work. Companies are using the fact they have an inhouse open source team to attract those minds."
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Alexis Richardson, cofounder and CEO at containers specialists Weaveworks, added: "In the old days not too long ago, companies thought they should invest their capital buying hardware and they should rent knowledge skills and talent by outsourcing through communities. That has been turned on its head. People realise it is much better to rent infrastructure and insource talent and skills that develop your company."
Clive Hackney, a senior engineer at Capgemini, said that the boom in Software as a Service (SaaS) has transferred value away from the code: "The value is not in the code. The value is in the knowledge that goes with the code. The code itself has no value. It used to be that you sell the code. But now it is everything around the code that has value."
Richardson voiced concerns around giving these developers too much power though. "The people that write open source software stop working on it and go and do something else. You constantly find you have really critical staff demanding more and more salary for their work [...] Customers fear that open source projects in companies will be gone in ten years. They want to know that they will still be supported by the company in ten years’ time," he said.
Richardson summed up the issue as a skills gap: "The basic problem is that the rate of demand is outpacing supply very rapidly. In future there will be many more developer positions. That completely changes the trend of how IT is consumed within the enterprise."
Diversity also remains an issue. The open source community is even less representative than the already deeply unrepresentative tech sector. A 2013 survey by Libresoft found just 11 percent of open source contributors to be women, which is something enterprises must consider.
Open source companies like MongoDB and Red Hat have built their entire business model on adding value to open source software through support and security. As Percival at Red Hat said: "Enterprises haven’t changed in what they demand from us. They want support cycles, risk management built in. All the things that people have always required for legal obligations are still there. They haven’t gone away."
Enterprises and government took their time adopting open source due to concerns around security and regulation, but as Percival said: "The government have been a massive driver in the UK. By definition you can look inside open source. It is open. That raises issues around security. Some people can no longer accept the way of having closed software delivery."
Hackney added: "As a developer, we do love open source. When it goes wrong we like to know what is going wrong. It really helps us."
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