FOSS Foundation or Vendor Control?

Courtesy:  Savio Rodrigues talks about the economics of open source projects (differentiation and commodity)

A tale of two open source projects
Like many, I’d assumed that the community around OpenStack gave it the critical mass required for OpenStack to become the leading open source cloud platform. I’m questioning that assumption now.

To explain why, let’s look back at two leading open source projects, the Linux and Apache HTTP Server. I use “Linux project” in the broadest sense, including the Linux kernel and all the various open source packages that round out a typical Linux distribution.

History has shown us that when an open source project is dealing with a valuable layer of the software stack, that project has tended to be controlled by a single vendor who can directly monetize the project. The term “value” is used to represent differentiation that can be monetized. While multiple implementations or distributions may result from the project, a single vendor becomes the dominant provider in the space. For Linux, that’s Red Hat with its Red Hat Enterprise Linux products. In the open source database space, MySQL would fit this model.

History also shows us that when an open source project is dealing with a commodity layer of the software stack, the project tends to be controlled by a foundation. In these cases, the project is used as a piece of a higher value product which provides differentiated value, and hence can be monetized. Said differently, the opens source project itself is indirectly monetized through the higher value product. The Apache HTTP Server, used within most commercial application server products, or Eclipse, used within many commercial application development products, are two examples.

Eucalyptus and OpenStack’s future:
If history is to repeat itself, then we need to consider whether an open source cloud platform is a valuable and directly monetizable part of the software stack or not. If it is, then a single vendor controlled open source project has a higher potential of success than a foundation-controlled project.

Open source foundations are great and play a valuable role with various open source projects. However, the mixture of ten or one hundred vendor motivations makes it increasingly difficult to meet the needs of the project and the monetization goals of each vendor.

Keep in mind that this only applies if the project is a directly monetizable layer of the software stack. As an outsider looking in, this appears to be the fundamental difference in Eucalyptus and the overall OpenStack community.

The OpenStack community, especially vendors such as Dell, HP and Rackspace, view OpenStack as addressing a part of the software stack that isn’t directly monetizable. These vendors would rather use OpenStack to build a higher value product that can be monetized. For instance, Dell and HP would likely sell “Cloud Platform Ready” hardware systems, rather than selling an OpenStack software product itself.

Clearly Eucalyptus disagrees, and Mickos claims to be growing customers “at an amazing rate”. Eucalyptus has grown from 15 to 70 employees over the past year and added a new headquarters in London to grow in EMEA.

In the end, IT buyers will decide whether Eucalyptus or the OpenStack community made the right bet. I tend to agree with Eucalyptus that a cloud platform is indeed a valuable, and hence directly monetizable, layer of the software stack.

What do you think?


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