IT vendors more and more are co-opting open source for their benefit.

Michael Vizard

August 19, 2015

2 Min Read
Open Source Becomes Shared R&D Vehicle for Vendors

Once upon a time open source was the mortal enemy of the providers of IT products and, by extension, their channel partners. But over the last couple of months it’s become evident that IT vendors have begun to co-opt the open source movement.

Case in point is the launch this week of the IO Visor and Kinetic Open Storage projects at the LinuxCon 2015 conference by The Linux Foundation. While both projects certainly represent noble endeavors, they are clearly dominated by IT vendors. In fact, both projects are excellent example of how IT vendors are increasingly making use of open source software to reduce their research and development costs.

For example, The Linux Foundation now also oversees a Docker container interoperability project along with an open source encryption project. In all these cases, IT vendors play the biggest role in terms of making contributions to what is widely perceived as enabling technologies that would be needed to create an actual product. In contrast, the original Linux project, at least in its early days, was driven more by the technical contributions of specific individuals that were motivated as much by personal glory as they were a desire to change the economic model around which the IT industry revolves.

In effect, IT vendors are using open source to share the expense of developing enabling technologies that they need to implement. Rather than wasting money reinventing the same wheel and then risking being sued for one patent violation or another, an open source project now essentially defines the rules by which IT vendors will compete.

Jim Zemlin, executive director for The Linux Foundation, said collectively these projects represent an advance in terms of not only the open source maturity of IT vendors, but also for IT organizations that benefit from the enhanced interoperability that naturally emerges when multiple vendors wind up sharing the same core technologies. That approach not only can serve to lower the cost of acquiring and owning those products, it also can make it easier to swap one set of products for another.

The tradeoff, of course, is that multiple vendors participating in an open source project may make it more difficult for that outlier startup to bring something truly disruptive to market. At the same time, there’s no doubt that such efforts will reduce the amount of time before a product or a service becomes a commodity. For many solution providers, that’s a double-edged sword. Commodity products tend to be more ubiquitously adopted, which increases services opportunity. Profit margins on the products themselves tend to be fairly slim in an open source world.

Like it or not, solution providers are going to see more of these open source projects. The challenge for solution providers is going to be figuring out where those open source projects end and the value-added solutions they wind up delivering to customers actually begin.

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About the Author(s)

Michael Vizard

Michael Vizard is a seasoned IT journalist, with nearly 30 years of experience writing and editing about enterprise IT issues. He is a contributor to publications including Programmableweb, IT Business Edge, CIOinsight and UBM Tech. He formerly was editorial director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise, where he launched the company’s custom content division, and has also served as editor in chief for CRN and InfoWorld. He also has held editorial positions at PC Week, Computerworld and Digital Review.

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