Monday, May 16, 2011

Make your bet on open source infrastructure computing

Today we are launching our company blog, focused on open source infrastructure computing. We plan to cover various emerging technologies and market paradigms related to this segment of IT. As you might imagine, we did not choose this topic by accident. Aside from being the focus for our blog, it is also the focus of Mirantis as a company. Employing Silicon Valley industry veterans backed by 150 open source hackers and programming champions from Russia we have built this company because we believe in a few basic principles. I felt there is no better way to open our blog, than to share these principles with the world. So here we go:

1. Cloud Drives Adoption of Open Source

Until recently the biggest selling point of commercial enterprise software was its reliability and scalability when it comes to mission-critical tasks. Open source was considered OK by enterprises for tactical purposes, but a no-no for mission-critical, enterprise wide stuff. Now after Amazon, Rackspace, etc. have built out their systems on top of what’s now largely available in open source the argument of OSS being unreliable no longer holds water.

Moreover, today, cloud essentially refers to the new paradigm for delivery of IT services… i.e. it is an economic model that revolves around “pay for what you get, when you get it.” Surprisingly, it took enterprises a very long time to accept this approach, but last year was pivotal in showing that it is tracking and is the way of the future. Open source historically, has been monetized, leveraging a model that is much closer to “cloud” than that of commercial software. I.e. in case of commercial software you buy the license and pay for implementation upfront. If you are lucky to implement, you continue to pay subscription which is sold in various forms – support, service assurance etc. With open source – you always implement first, if it works – you may (or may not) buy commercial support, which is also frequently sold as a subscription service. Therefore, as enterprises wrap their mindset around cloud, they shy further away from the traditional commercial software model and closer to the open source / services focused model.

2. OSS is The Future of Enterprise Infrastructure Computing

I expect that enterprise adoption of open source will be particularly concentrated in the infrastructure computing space. I.e. open source databases (NoSQL, MySQL instead of Oracle, DB2 etc.), application servers (SrpingDM, JBoss vs. WebSphere, WebLogic), messaging engines (RabbitMQ vs. Tibco), infrastructure monitoring and security tools etc. Adoption of OSS initiatives higher up the stack (Alfresco, Compiere ERP, Pentaho etc.) in my opinion will lag behind infrastructure projects. One of the reasons here being greater end user dependence on tools that are higher up the stack. If you have 100 employees that are used to getting their BI reports in Cognos, it is hard to get them to switch to Pentaho and get used to the new user interface and report formats. However, if your Cognos BI runs on Oracle, switching it to MySQL will likely only affect a few IT folks, while 100 users will not notice the difference.

More importantly, however, the lower down the stack you are, the more “techie” the consumer of your product is. The more techie your consumer, the more likely he is to a) prefer customizing the product to the process and not the other way around; b) ultimately contribute to the open source product. Lower level OSS products tend to be more popular and more in demand overall. The extreme example would be to look at operating system vs. end user apps. Linux powers more than half of enterprise servers, but how many people use open source text editing software?

3. Public PaaS is not for Everyone

An alternative to dealing with infrastructure computing is to not deal with it at all and use a platform like Google App Engine or to build your apps. Why deal with lower end of the stack at all if the guys that know how to do it best already today allow you to use their platform? I believe that PaaS will become the dominant answer in the SMB market, however, organizations that fall in the category of “technology creators” such as cloud service vendors themselves, financial services, large internet portals etc. will always want to keep control over their entire stack to be able to innovate ahead of the curve and remain vendor independent. Therefore, technology driven companies (those that differentiate with technology) will be the primary market for proprietary OSS based infrastructure computing.

4. Infrastructure Computing is Nobody’s Core Competency

Although infrastructure computing is a necessary component in every organization and most technology driven companies want to have full control over their entire stack, there are no technology companies out there that differentiate themselves based on the awesomeness of their infrastructure stack. Yes, everybody knows that Google’s application infrastructure is great and so is that of, but in the end, the customers don’t care if it takes 2K servers to power or 100K servers, as long as the features are there. In that context, it almost always makes sense to outsource infrastructure computing functions to some third party so as to enable the company to focus on those aspects of its technology that differentiate it from the competition.