The open source movement is hotter than ever, giving IT teams a growing array of alternatives to proprietary solutions. The rise of cloud, containers, and software-defined technologies has helped fuel the trend. In networking, the number of open source options has practically exploded in recent years.
But for enterprise IT shops, implementing open source technologies and getting involved in open source projects can be challenging. I recently met with Eric Wright, principal solutions engineer and technology evangelist at cloud and virtualization company Turbonomic, to get his take on the challenges. Wright, who participates extensively in open source communities, said open source can provide tremendous benefits, but IT pros may need to let go of some misconceptions to make it work.
Wright, who is a VMware vExpert and Cisco Champion with background that includes OpenStack, will team with other experts to lead an all-day Open Source Summit at Interop ITX in May.
One of the most commonly cited challenges with open source in the enterprise is a lack of support, but Wright said that's really more of a myth. "There are a host of companies widely embracing support for open source ecosystems," he said. "Red Hat, Mirantis, and others have literally built organizations around supporting open ecosystems."
Another common concern enterprises have about open source products is whether they will disappear. However, Wright points out that there's no assurance of the longevity of a proprietary product: When a vendor is acquired, like Ruckus Wireless or Avaya, it also means changes for the way a product is consumed.
"The fear that a platform will go away in a few years so you're not going to use it now – by not using it is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy," he said, adding that open source platforms that are embraced by organizations flourish.
Being able to give back to open source projects is key, and giving IT staff members time for that can be challenging for an enterprise. Wright acknowledges the work-life balance that presents, but said the payoff is empowered and happy development teams that are helping to improve a platform the organization likely uses.
Beyond the human resource challenge, enterprises often are worried about the potential legal impact of working on open source projects, he said. "Companies are concerned if their teams are developing code that could somehow impact intellectual property or have a negative effect on another consumer of the platform down the road," Wright said. However, he said there's a lot of FUD around this issue. "There is a huge number of legal resources to help people understand how to positively participate in open source contributions."
Smaller enterprises with fewer resources will have a harder time integrating open source, especially on the networking side, Wright said. "The smaller you are, the more challenging it will be because you have to lean on a partner." Yet with established vendors like Cisco, Juniper Networks, and VMware embracing open networking, "the partner vendors we're working with today have widely embraced open standards and open platforms," he said.
More than code
A common misconception is that in order to be an open source contributor one must be a developer, Wright says. "Open source is founded on the idea of creating opportunity for people to collaborate towards a common goal using a platform or product and platforms and products need more than code," he said. "They need project managers, marketing people, and evangelists to amplify and share the story."
People involved in open source projects need to be able to make business decisions and tough choices, for example, what goes into the next release, he said. "That's why we also need innkeepers, who can handle pull requests, set up meetings and development forums. It's not just raw hammering of code into the keyboard. It's really creating a business supporting it."
Sharing open source successes and challenges is critical so others can learn from them, he said. "It's definitely not all sunshine and rainbows, but neither is any walled-garden platform. One success begets another when the story is shared."
Hear more from Wright and other open source experts live and in person at the Open Source Summit at Interop ITX in Las Vegas. Other speakers at the summit include Leah Schoeb, found data architect at Data Glass, and Lisa Caywood, director of ecosystem development at the Linux Foundation's OpenDaylight Project. Don't miss out! Register now for Interop ITX.