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The Open Source Forest

Posted by Andrew Aitken
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As the saying goes, sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees and open source is no exception. As more and more companies depend upon open source for critical workloads, the ability to see and understand the larger open source ecosystem becomes more challenging and also more crucial.

Having spent 20+ years in the open source space, I’ve been saying - at least for the last year or so - that we’ll soon be talking less about open source because most of us feel it is just the way we do computing. That however is wrong. The open source conversation has actually escalated for three key reasons:

  • Continued increase in the pace of adoption across technology segments and geographies - leading to
    • Increased investments in open source projects by a host of stakeholders resulting in more scalable, more integrated and more supported solutions (in turn generating additional investments)
    • The fact that this mutually-sustaining circle leads to recognition of open source as a strategic asset by enterprises, not just a collection of tactical components in their IT environments

What does this mean? For one thing, it’s a good time to be an open source developer. And for another, the community needs to understand that there is a much larger picture here than any one individual or collection of projects and that “everything” is connected.

At Wipro, we addressed the sheer volume of available options by creating a full stack of best-of-breed open source components and called it OpenApp. It worked - for at least 5 minutes, before the first inquiry came in to integrate a component we never thought would be requested. As we quickly received more and more of these unicorn requests, we realized it’s less about standardizing on apps and more about creating a framework for rapid integration.

Recently, I attended the Linux Foundation Leadership Summit and heard many great presentations and had many informative hallway conversations, connecting and re-connecting with many smart people. There were presentations by Walmart and Capital One, by Walt Disney and the usual list of tech companies - Google, Intel, Pivotal, IBM as well as startups and foundations and communities - all informative but focused on one tree in a vast forest of technologies. If we were to climb any one of them, we would see that not only is the forest vast, but that new trees are sprouting up everywhere and reaching maturity right before our eyes. We could perceive how one tree affects another and how that in turn influences the rest of the forest.

Many conferences - from the Linux Foundation’s array of choices to OSCON, and vendor events such as Red Hat’s Summit - do a good job of helping us see and understand many individual trees, whether they are particular technologies, or adoption of open source at individual companies, or a focus on a domain solution. As time goes on, we tend to become tree specialists, with only an inkling as to the size, complexity, and interconnectedness of the larger open source forest.

If we are to maintain our open source forest’s health and vitality however, we must learn to take a broader view. Yes, every individual should continue to do what they do best and to work on those projects in the communities that most interest them. That is how open source grows - from ground up, tree by tree. However, we can only benefit from recognizing that nothing stands alone and by remembering that for the health and future of open source, we as a community of practitioners must broaden our perspective and understand that what we work on today could be a part of a system that powers over 100 million users at a global telecommunications firm or a component of a solution which manage hundreds of thousands of commerce transactions per day or powers key elements of an entire country’s security infrastructure.

As open source continues to move into global enterprises and mission critical functions, understanding issues like API management, integration and CI/CD will be more critical. With so many choices, knowing what works together or more importantly, “how” to make things work together becomes a vital skill. Effectively connecting core technologies is now as important as the technologies themselves. In short, if we don’t start prioritizing perspective now, we may never get out of the trees.

About Author

Andrew Aitken- General Manager & Global Open Source Practice Leader, Wipro Ltd.

Andrew Aitken has served as an open source expert to the White House and California Senate and as a guest lecturer at Stanford's Entrepreneur program. He is an investor in Mautic and on the Board of Advisors of various open source companies. He is past Board Member of OSEHRA, an initiative spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide cost effective healthcare solutions for veterans through the development of an open source electronic health records community. He has personally worked with organizations such as IBM, Thomson Reuters, the U.S. Navy, Microsoft, the government of Japan and startups, assisting them with developing their open source strategies.

Mr. Aitken has been a pioneer in the development of governance and commercialization models for open source. He is considered a thought leader in the emerging trend of applying open source development methods to the corporate development and innovation processes; known as Inner-source.

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