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Open source software has evolved from providing low-cost alternatives to proprietary offerings to a platform for innovation, according to Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst.
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“Over the past five years, most developments in big data, cloud and software-defined networking were happening first in open source,” Whitehurst said during a media briefing in Singapore, adding that innovations by internet giants such as Google and Facebook are largely based on open source platforms.
“It is not just about saving money now, it is about enabling new capabilities to solve business problems,” he said.
In 2016, a Red Hat-commissioned study by analyst house Forrester revealed that 52% of 455 CIOs and senior IT decision makers in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region are already tapping open source software in areas such as cloud, mobility, big data and DevOps.
Forrester noted that IT leaders in APAC also see open source as a strategic investment, not just a cost-saving option.
Against this backdrop, Whitehurst said every company would now need to have an open source strategy, particularly in how open source software can be used to transform businesses.
“Digital transformation is about technology enabling fundamental changes to an organisation,” he said. “But with business models changing so quickly and a massive amount of ambiguity, businesses have to rethink how they enable themselves to survive.”
Whitehurst said although traditional businesses may develop and execute strategies to transform themselves, the world is moving too fast for any organisation to put up any meaningful five-year plan.
“Who would have thought that Ford and General Motors would need to worry about Uber in a couple of years? And in the airline industry, people worry about Google having access to your calendar and proposing a better travel experience from another airline that meets your need,” he said.
In addressing such concerns, Whitehurst said companies should plan less, not more, and focus on building capabilities so they can respond more quickly to change.
Driving open source participation
Whitehurst said some of the largest companies in the world are turning to Red Hat not for its technology, but because of the open source company’s strong participation in communities and the ability to identify innovations that benefit businesses.
“Everything we do is powered by participation,” he said. “Every line of code we put out there to the decisions we make, are done in an open way. We are radically open in how we try to solve problems, and that has made us successful.”
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Whitehurst also said some organisations are doing “open source in name only”.
“One of the issues with open source is that it technically defines a set of licences around software, so there are suppliers that give away source code but are not building broad participation,” he said.
“Or, if you take something that’s open source but not driving things upstream so that all your contributions can be consumed, you’re not helping to drive open source forward,” he added.
“There’s nothing wrong with something like Cloud Foundry – it’s just that it’s open source in licence only and not really an open source community,” he said.
In an interview with Computer Weekly earlier in 2017, Cloud Foundry’s executive director Abby Kearns said the number of community members has grown since the Cloud Foundry Foundation was created in 2015. The foundation is also gearing up to woo more developers to the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering this year.