Richard Morrell: a brief history (of life) in open source

This is a guest post for the Computer Weekly Open Source Insider blog written by Richard Morrell, group CTO at Falanx Cyber Technologies and CISO of the Cloud Security Alliance.

Morrell looks back fondly on seven years of the Open Source Insider blog as we approach our 1000th post.

Hello open source world

Emerging from the shadows they came, predominantly genuinely well-meaning… early open source advocates were hobbyists bent on creating a new world order.

They were in the process of defining not just an operating system but a hierarchical meritocracy built around an ecosystem of licences giving birth to libraries, utilities, frameworks, applications and more importantly the skeleton of Internet and mobile computing.

I’ve been very fortunate to make a living out of open source since 1998. Founder staffer at many of the open source startups that grew out of the Bay Area Linux User Groups and Silicon Valley Linux User Groups, I worked at Linuxcare and VA Linux, founded my own global security project and ecosystem SmoothWall and the company of the same name (still trading today protecting millions of networks globally including major retail brands and governments).

I worked with Red Hat until the end of last year and am now at Falanx in the UK – a firm building possibly the fastest and most intelligent security platform to ever emerge from the open source community.

I’ve earned my chops and seen it all en route.

Friendly journalists, really

So there have been calls to arms, friendly journalists who were always there to write editorial or who would use us to correct stories or to check content.

Journalists gave us a lot of important validation, to see yourself in print media other than on Slashdot was a massive vote of confidence. None more so the last seven years than the Open Source Insider blog on Computer Weekly.

Over the years it has really challenged the market to stand up to be counted and to give an important credence to the dynamic way open source was changing not just the server landscape and being the backbone of mobile development but also as an important witness to the three critical building blocks of technology we take for granted.

Those blocks being cloud, communications and portability.

These three standards may not seem to jump off the page, but cloud has succeeded by giving the major vendors and the major social media and retail platforms the ability to offset the cost of ownership of Microsoft Windows or Microsoft instances in a virtualised environment by using custom built, fit for purpose Linux OS derived instances and services to spin up at scale environments and architectures and to use the inherited security and network controls to tie them all together — scalable, secured, built on the code looked at by a million pairs of eyes in the community.

The disruption of emerging messaging protocols in the last seven to ten years first saw open source clients being able to piggyback to use ICQ/MSN/AIM and other standards and then, as vendors such as Microsoft and AOL made life harder at the API level to play, to replace those vendors with standards such as AMQP and XMPP.

Platform games

Lighter, more secure a published open standard with an entirely open ecosystem it has meant the emergence of the likes of WhatsApp. A platform developed entirely harnessing the open source framework Erlang to become the dominant market winner in messaging — and then to build an open source security framework for protecting messages in transit and at rest using a PKI built around OpenSSL.

This again demonstrates how the use of open source is hands down the clear unrestrained factor in where we are going.

Portability has become a watchword for the automation of how we get applications to live. Whether you are designing and developing your application using Python, Ruby, Java or any other open framework in your open source development environment or tooling, the chances are you are going to use technologies such as GitHub or GitLab.

Automate for speed

If you are going to automate to speed up and prove your workings using tools such as Ansible or Chef – you aren’t going to be using proprietary platforms for pushing out and managing those applications in their lifecycle.

From the cloud to mobile application development to the fast emerging Internet of Things open source has dominated and done so with grace and applomb.

But has the legacy IT industry kept pace ?

Established system integrator partners who traditionally resold or partnered with the heavyweight platforms, operating systems and application vendors continue to be profitable but there is now a defined ‘them and us’.

No longer are the big system integrator partners the automatic go-to choice for customers. Unable to hire and retain the talent they need and still to a degree how to monetise open source the chasm continues to grow and with that split comes a defined lack of innovation from the old world order. That innovation continues in the open source community and from the least likely sources.

A feeder system has emerged spurred by the articles such as those published in Computer Weekly, demystifying the dark arts of the community. That feeder system of Meetups and Eventbrite meetings means that on any day of the week somewhere on the planet there are at least two dozen meetups ranging from Java users, to Python developers, across cloud, security, mobile development and every topic you can imagine.

User group goodness

When we started with Linux, the ecosystems the Linux User Groups (LUGs) were friendly if combative bastions of pride with fierce mailing lists and (to be totally honest) dubious grooming. Now Meetups and Eventbrites have taken their place offering specialised homes for evolution and integration, communication and innovation.

< class="wp-caption-text">Richard Morrell on open source: been there, done it, got lots of T-shirts.

This is innovation often away from the radars’ of vendors but doing one important thing. Sharing use cases and learning from each other. These two emerging standard bearers have importantly provided a structure for user communication and education, strengthening the ambition of developers and operation staff alike to take huge leaps in utlising OSS.

If someone had said in 2001 that Microsoft would be working so much in open source I’d have laughed so hard then told you that you needed assistance.

A seed change within Microsoft led by the openness team and then Satya Nadella and his vision for a new Microsoft is very real. Customers are benefitting from the investment that Microsoft and Red Hat and others are putting in to make cohabitation alongside each other and supporting each other is a prima facae example of how open source is very here to stay.

As I said at the beginning, supporting us along that way are (in my estimation) eight journalists who have given us a standing and aircover. The Computer Weekly Open Source Inside blog has been huge to so many of us. Here’s a glass raised what is now seven years and lets see where we can take the open source dream next.