Open source in the enterprise has changed dramatically since Pivotal Software’s Head of Product James Watters worked on the OpenSolaris operating system for Sun at the start of the new millenium. Back then companies used open source software mainly for the cost savings and didn’t see much benefit to participating in the open source community, he said in his ApacheCon keynote in Denver this week.
Sun, for example, released OpenSolaris in 2008, 10 years too late to really compete with Linux, Watters said. And when Oracle acquired Sun in 2010, the project was promptly shut down.
That was Watters’ first experience with an open source project. He’s learned a lot since then about the business of open source and is happy to say that Pivotal has pretty much taken the opposite approach: starting out as a collection of open source projects, licensed largely by Apache, to build the Cloud Foundry open Platform-as-a-Service.
In the early days, “we thought open sourcing the code was enough… we were wrong,” Watters said. “It’s also about the collaborative community you have built around it.”
Pivotal started by releasing its code on GitHub, then set about amassing a community that includes vendors as well as users. This collaborative approach has become the standard way to build a commercially successful open source software project and is key to attracting enterprise customers and investors, Watters said.
“Collaboration is fundamental to the success of any project,” Watters said. “I don’t think it would have been possible to go build a new infrastructure software company today that caters to developers without having a leading open source community around it.”
“A large, robust, active user community is the greatest governance model, in some sense, for anyone who’s writing software,” he said.
Apache Key to Cloud Foundry Community
The Apache 2.0 open source software license has been one of the most important enablers of Cloud Foundry’s community, Watters said. The license set the standard for how companies and contributors interact with the project by making it impossible for potential contributors (and their lawyers) to modify their CLA (contributor license agreement), for example. All contributors participate on the same terms. That, in turn, made it possible for commercial partners such as IBM to invest in Cloud Foundry as part of a $1 billion commitment to PaaS, he said.
Cloud Foundry has also seen some success in attracting new developers to the project with its own in-house training program. Their Dojo invites potential contributors into the Pivotal offices to pair program with a project developer who brings them quickly up to speed on the technology.
“Within 4 to 6 weeks they can get an expert-level knowledge of a specific part of the code because every day they’re working in two, four-hour blocks with one of the key programmers on the project,” Watters said.
The dojo approach can help encourage corporations to contribute to other open source projects as well, he said.
In February, Pivotal established the Cloud Foundry Foundation to act as a neutral, non-profit organization to host the project, which they expect to further boost enterprise participation and investment. By joining the foundation, companies are essentially giving their product departments permission to heavily invest time and resources into PaaS development, Watters said.
“It’s a landmark moment for Platform-as-a-Service,” Watters said. “A lot of startups out there are using cloud as a service, but we need to bring the stack to the enterprise as well. Everybody should have cloud services and be able to participate.”