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Open source is leaving its vendor roots behind

Commentary: Some of the best open source today is made by enterprises like yours. Here’s why that matters.


Image: iStock

Back in 2009 then Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst declared, “Ultimately, for open source to provide value to all of our customers worldwide, we need to get our customers not only as users of open source products but truly engaged in open source and taking part in the development community.” By 2016, he went a step further, arguing, “The majority of IT innovation will come from users, not vendors.” 

It’s 2021, and Whitehurst’s dream of enterprises doing the heavy lifting of open sourcing code has yet to be realized, but there are signs that we’re well into the “early adopter” phase. Namely, the number of user-led projects being shepherded by foundations like the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. 

SEE: A guide to The Open Source Index and GitHub projects checklist (TechRepublic Premium)

User-led innovation: it’s happening

Some of these are well-known and widely used, like Envoy, which was created by Matt Klein and his team at Lyft. As Klein put it in an interview, the primary reason he decided to open source Envoy is because “We were all very, very naive,” and had no idea how hard it would be. 

Fortunately, there’s plenty of naiveté to go round.

  • Intuit, for example, contributed Argo, a container-native workflow engine for Kubernetes, later adding Argo Flux, a GitOps continuous delivery tool, in partnership with Weaveworks. 

  • Comcast recently had two projects accepted into the CNCF Sandbox program: Kuberhealthy and Trickster. Trickster helps to make Prometheus dashboards run smoother and faster, while Kuberhealthy is an operator for synthetic monitoring on Kubernetes. While significant, these aren’t the first projects Comcast has landed with foundations. In 2018, Apache Software Foundation promoted Apache Traffic Control–a Comcast-developed project focused on large-scale content delivery networks–as a top-level project.

  • Speaking of the Prometheus monitoring system, that originated at Soundcloud

  • Netflix, which launches so many open source projects that it’s easy to forget it’s not a “technology company,” most recently released its continuous delivery platform, Spinnaker, to the Continuous Delivery Foundation.

  • Even the financial services companies are getting in on the action. For example, Capital One contributed Cloud Custodian, a rules engine that helps organizations define policies to better manage their cloud environments with automated governance, security, compliance and efficiency, to CNCF in 2020. 

This is just the beginning of a list that grows longer by the day. There are many more projects that get released by enterprise users, yet haven’t found the level of success that would make them likely candidates to be housed within a foundation. Yet even those that have reached that level of maturity is an impressive and growing list. It means that more of the software enterprises will be able to choose from originate with other users like them. This should yield better software, more tuned to an enterprise user’s particular requirements.

There’s more progress to be made, but we’re on track.

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but the views expressed herein are mine.

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