Open source licence series – Puppet: consumption without collaboration equals consternation

Open source grew, it proliferated… and it became something that many previously proprietary-only software vendors embraced as a key means of development… but the issue of how open source software is licenced is still the stuff of some debate.

The Computer Weekly Open Source Insider team now features a series of guest posts examing in the ups & downs and ins & out of open source software licencing.  

Puppet is an open source systems management tool for centralising and automating configuration management tasks relating to both hardware and software.

Nigel Kersten, Field CTO at Puppet writes from this point forward.

Open source has been a key part of our culture and business model since day one — and if there’s one lesson we’ve learned, it’s that open source has always proven to be far more of an opportunity than a threat to our business. 

There’s been a lot of chatter about the threat the big cloud providers pose to open source business models such as open core over the last few years. I believe this angst misses the point. 

Open source is about far more than just code and licensing. It’s about community.

Authenticity affects

If you have authentic community engagement, an open source platform that is not deliberately impoverished, an environment that enables individuals to healthily interact as they build novel workflow solutions that benefit the collective group and nurture contributions that are more than just code, then it’s far more difficult for an external party to come in and negatively impact your business model.

If you just focus on the code and use licences as a defensive weapon, your defenses are weak. The greater threat (and corresponding opportunity!) is the massive amount of people capital and brain power locked up inside large enterprises when it comes to open source. 

Just about every company of every size these days is heavily reliant upon open source in one way or another, whether it be components in the applications you’re building, middleware, databases, operating systems, virtualisation systems or the entire infrastructure orchestration layer. Yet large companies tend to be mere consumers of open source, often paying for commercial distributions or support, without contributing back to the code or communities. These companies contribute by way of dollars. 

Don’t get me wrong.

We all need revenue for our businesses, but this feels like a massive missed social opportunity. 

Large enterprises often create significant institutional barriers to make various forms of open source contribution challenging. It takes people with lots of passion and skill to overcome those barriers in individual cases. Again, this doesn’t just mean code.

Outside sharing

If you look at the 2018 Puppet State of DevOps Report, you see that even at the highest levels of DevOps evolution, only 4% of respondents are sharing best practices and patterns outside their organisation. 

I see this over and over again as I work with enterprise customers. They waste significant time and resources reinventing the wheel in slightly different ways to accommodate existing teams instead of accepting standardised solutions and focusing their energy on true differentiators. 

More importantly, the workflow and business processes that sit on top of all these new IT capabilities are being developed in isolation rather than collaboratively. 

I’m optimistic that we can change this. As open source vendors, we need to continue to invest in online community platforms, not just for communication and code contribution, but also to create spaces and lower the barriers for the community to contribute documentation, workflows and integrations with other technology. 

At Puppet we’ve been pivoting the Puppet Forge (our repository of over 6,300 infrastructure-as-code modules)in this direction and the community response has been fantastic.

Consumption to collaboration

As vendors, we should also make it easier for our commercial enterprise customers to nurture contributions of all forms from this world that has such a massive investment in IT and consumes open source at such a gigantic scale. There are a lot of opportunities to shift the balance from consumption to collaborative production. 

If we can work with users inside large enterprises, work out how to minimise the barriers they face to external contribution and sharing, and get them engaged in the wider open source communities, then the opportunities in front of us all will dwarf any of the supposed threats the cloud providers may pose to the future of open source.

< class="wp-caption-text">Nigel Kersten, Field CTO at Puppet.

< class="wp-caption-text">Puppet coders, they don’t play around.

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