IBM’s Wager on Open Source Is Still Paying Off


When IBM got involved with the Linux open source project in 1998, they were betting that giving their code and time to the community would be a worthwhile investment. Now, 18 years later, IBM is more involved than ever, with more than 62,000 employees trained and expected to contribute to open source projects, according to Todd Moore, Vice President of Open Technology at IBM, speaking at ApacheCon in May.

“It became apparent that open source could be the de facto standards we needed to be the engine to go out and drive things,” Moore said in his keynote at ApacheCon. “[The contributions] were bets; we didn’t know how this was going to come out, and we didn’t know if open source would grow, we knew there would be roadblocks and things we’d have to overcome along the way, but it had promise. We thought this would be the way of the future.”

Moore reiterated IBM’s commitment to open source, highlighting projects born at IBM’s developerWorks Open (dWOpen), such as SystemML, Toree, and Quarks, and now in the Apache Incubator.

Machine Learning Focus

IBM is especially focused on machine learning technology — hence, its work on SystemML — and it’s looking to build “a big-picture platform” that will be able to process the mountains of data sure to come from sources like streaming data and the Internet of Things. Moore cited a Cisco study that estimated that by 2018 there will be 400 zetabytes of IoT data created — a staggering figure.

“To us, machine learning is incredibly important,” Moore said. “We are swimming in data. There is just more data out there than we possibly know what to do with. As a result of that we need to use machines to start doing the analytics, to learn from themselves, to figure out the new set of things that we weren’t seeing in the data.

IBM is also contributing to projects that have progressed past the Apache Incubator, projects like Mesos, Spark, Kafka, and CouchDB. “The projects here I think are going to be the keys to that in the future,” he said.

According to Moore, the strength of the Apache Foundation will always be the individual committers; it’s a formula that has worked from the very beginning. But, big companies like IBM continuing to make big commitments to the open source community will be crucial to maintaining or even increasing the pace of innovation.

“The Apache way is that everyone is a committer, and making their own commits into the process, but the companies are behind it,” Moore said. “We’ve got real good deep support here, and that’s important.”

Watch the complete presentation below: