Open source licence series - Rancher Labs: Why vendor ‘strip-mining’ is an opportunity, not a threat

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.  

Shannon Williams, co-founder and president of Rancher Labs writes from this point forward.

In the land of giants

As an open-source upstart in the container orchestration space, we play in a market populated by giants.

The question of how we protect the value of our technology while freeing it for the good of the community is, naturally, a preoccupation. The beauty of being open source is there’s no barrier to use or experimentation – which is where the really cool projects tend to emerge.

Open source is, by nature, user and community-oriented but it’s that same nature that leaves it open to what some see as commercial exploitation.

Rather than a threat, we see the notion of open source ‘strip-mining’ by large cloud vendors [where the big vendors come in and ‘tap a seam’ of open source gold and mine that for wider smelting and crafting] as an opportunity. The value of the big cloud providers is always intrinsically tied to the ecosystem they’re building around. More and more, organisations want to access those ecosystems, but they know that there is a complex set of relationships between all ecosystems and no single organisation is capable of living in just one of them. They want variety. The more, therefore, those ecosystems integrate with each other and help teams run technologies side-by-side, the bigger and more varied the benefits.

The ‘strip-mining’ analogy is a rough one. While it’s true that some providers don’t put a lot back into the community (there’s definitely been some ugly competition between open source and commercial companies), for the most part, the relationship has been mutually beneficial for both cloud providers and open-source software developers.

The struggle muddle

The struggle occurs when an organisation [or smaller development team] doesn’t have a great business plan or route to market with an open source project. Perhaps it hasn’t been able to commercialise its product and, suddenly, it becomes embedded into something larger – with monetisation happening in the cloud. That’s where the majority of issues arise.

We see it all the time.

Great ideas, not taken properly or aggressively to market, become fair game for savvy cloud players that know these ideas will accelerate ecosystem development. That’s business. It can happen in any space and in any sector – open-source or not.

Having an open source business model is not enough to guarantee commercial success. It does, though, put you in a position where you have a greater chance of listening to what customers and users think are necessary next steps; what they’re excited about using your platform for; and what they are willing to pay to create commercial value from the technology.

Genuine value

As long as we continue to push for greater innovation and offer the kind of open source support model that we do (that helps customers get genuine commercial value from their K8s infrastructure) they’ll want to work with us.

Companies will benefit as long as we continue to improve the technology and take feedback from our users and the wider community. For those considering an open source future, the opportunity is ripe but know what you’re getting into.

It shouldn’t be a huge shock if you build an open source product and someone else does something cool with it. That’s the idea!

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