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Google Takes a Bigger Role with The Linux Foundation

As Google moves up to platinum membership from its previous silver level, it will deepen its involvement and gain a seat on the foundation board.

Google, which has been a major user and developer of open-source software since it began operations in 1998, has upped its membership in The Linux Foundation (TLF) to become a platinum member, giving it more participation in the group's open-source mission.

The company, which previously was a silver level member of TLF, also now gains a seat on the foundation's board of directors as it expands its involvement in the group. Google is paying $500,000 to become a platinum member, which is the highest membership level.

"Google is one of the biggest contributors to and supporters of open source in the world, and we are thrilled that they have decided to increase their involvement in The Linux Foundation," said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the group.

Taking Google's position on the TLF board will be Sarah Novotny, the head of open-source strategy for the Google Cloud Platform. Novotny is a longtime open-source advocate and activist in a wide range of open-source communities, including the Node.js Foundation board and projects such as NGINX and MySQL.

"Open source is an essential part of Google's culture, and we've long recognized the potential of open ecosystems to grow quickly, be more resilient and adaptable in the face of change and create better software," Novotny said. "The Linux Foundation is a fixture in the open-source community. By working closely with the organization, we can better engage with the community at large and continue to build a more inclusive ecosystem where everyone can benefit."

Several IT analysts said the announcement shows the growing importance of open-source software around the world.

"It's all about open source and influencing the open-source community," Ashish Nadkarni, an IDC analyst, told Channel Futures. "You can influence the Linux community in many ways," including through a deepened sponsorship of TLF.

Participating more closely with the group is "critically important to Google because of the outcome, the way in which people will adopt commercial variations of those products," including Google services such as Google Cloud Platform and others, said Nadkarni. "The Linux Foundation has many interesting projects that are working to change what the infrastructure of tomorrow looks like."

The move won't directly affect the channel, he said, but will affect vendors that work closely with the channel.

"The play here for Google and their cloud platform is the ability to give users the best set of open-source options as the customers move to Google Cloud Platform."

What will mean something to the channel is that by Google increasing its participation in TLF, it will further improve its cloud platform to take on market leaders Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, he said.

"The channel is all about providing options to its clients," he noted. "Right now, Google is playing catch-up to Microsoft and Amazon in terms of the service side."

Maribel Lopez, principal analyst at Lopez Research, said Google's deeper TLF involvement is likely part of a "really interesting tussle going on between Microsoft and Google right now," as Google is trying to show or prove that it has market dominance in open source.

The situation was heightened earlier this month when Microsoft announced it would acquire GithHub, the open source code software development platform and repository.

Maribel Lopez

"Everyone got taken for a loop by the GitHub acquisition," Lopez said. "Now Microsoft has GitHub, which was considered one of the key open source communities."

Taking that into account, it makes sense that Google would now want to become more involved in TLF, she added.

"It probably would have happened anyway, but it had to happen in a big way now, especially in the last few weeks" since the GitHub news.

Another analyst, Charles King of Pund-IT, called the move "a highly symbolic affirmation of Google's long-standing support for open-source projects and technologies that also has practical impacts, such as the addition of a Google executive on the Foundation's board of directors."

"That may be of interest to channel companies focused on Linux and other open-source technologies, as well as those who pitch or support Google solutions, including its productivity suite, Chromebooks and Pixel phones," said King. "But the broader message may simply be to reaffirm Google's roots. The company is a long way from being the little search engine that could to becoming a mainstay presence in numerous areas, like online advertising, cloud, analytics and software."

At the same time, he said, it's "letting the world know that it remembers where it came from and continues to support those core technologies is not a trivial exercise. But it's likely to mean significantly different things to different people, including those in the channel."

Google has started and contributed to some 10,000 open-source projects since its inception, including Cloud Foundry, Node.js and the Open API Initiative. Google was also a founding member of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) and originally developed the Kubernetes container orchestration platform, which it later released to open source. Google is also a founding member of the Core Infrastructure Initiative, which works to dramatically improve software security, and the TODO Group, a growing group of companies that are working together to create practices, tools and more to run successful and effective open-source projects and programs.

Founded in 2000, TLF is a nonprofit that promotes, grows and supports the open-source community with tools, training, expertise and more as part of a strategy to build a thriving global environment for developers and users. More than 800 organizations are members of TLF and the projects it hosts. Other platinum-level members include AT&T, Cisco, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Huawei, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, NEC, Oracle, Qualcomm, Tencent, Samsung and VMware.

As a platinum member of the organization, Google will gain additional access to the foundation’s extensive knowledge and experience in open-source governance, legal and technical topics.

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