Open-source software use in business has come a long way since the first LinuxWorld Conference & Expo was held in San Jose, California, in March 1999. Linux had been around as an operating system since its invention in 1991 by Finnish-American developer Linus Torvalds, but its use in business computing was just beginning to germinate by the early 2000s.
Fast-forward to 2018. Open-source software powers the internet, much of the world's cloud computing infrastructure, thousands of companies around the globe and a wide range of technologies, including software used in motor vehicles, consumer devices, in-home systems and more. Channel partners are increasingly involved in open source today, selling services, offering advice and helping clients use open source effectively.
And despite that phenomenal growth, millions of developers continue to devote countless hours to projects. By the end of 2017, more than 24 million developers in more than 200 countries had contributed to some 67 million GitHub project repositories. Many more projects are also used by more developers on code repositories offered by GitLab, Bitbucket, SourceForge and others.
For almost every customer software need, there is likely an open-source project working on the problem.
With all of this activity around the world, some open-source trends could become even more important to partners in the future.
Blockchain Is Emerging
Heather Kirksey, vice president of community and ecosystem development at The Linux Foundation, says that today's open-source trends vary by industry but include projects such as blockchain, which companies in finance and banking are eyeing, as well as containers and Kubernetes, which are continuing to evolve and grow in use by enterprise IT.
The Hyperledger blockchain project, which The Linux Foundation sponsors, is taking off, said Kirksey, as a way to help solve such challenging problems as security and authentication for a wide range of industries.
Blockchains, which are distributed databases with no central authority or points of trust, can streamline business processes to save time and money while reducing risk, making the tech attractive to a variety of customers. Emerging trends that employ blockchain and Hyperledger include enabling transactions, supply chain verifications and identity validations, as well as for improving security and privacy, said Kirksey. All of these are opportunities for channel partners to grow their services and sales.
"People across industries are being more aware of technologies that might be repurposed for new use cases," Kirksey said. "These things are around as open-source projects rather than having to build them from scratch."
Networking and Cloud
In other industries, open-source projects such as OpenStack and Kubernetes are advancing network transformations.
"They are really looking to rearchitect their networks to be more software-based," said Kirksey. "We're seeing a lot more convergence along verticals."
And as that continues more networking trailblazers are contributing code to these core projects. After all, that involves their own developers in the projects they need to create for their own infrastructures. A win-win. Channel partners with dev chops have similar opportunities.
When it comes to container and Kubernetes trends, Kirksey sees their growth and development as a continuing evolution of companies' move to the cloud.
"We're seeing projects beginning to go up the stack, from Linux to OpenStack or Kubernetes in the cloud, to virtualization and to projects such as automotive-grade Linux," she said.
At the same time, she said, "other things will open up new opportunities that no one has thought of yet." Partners should follow these trends as well and be ready to jump in when they see opportunities for growth.
Kirksey also sees includes more efforts by open-source projects to gather input from the end users of their work.
"We're seeing this trend with telecom operators and also in the form of end-user advisory groups," she said. "We're now getting those comments fed straight to the developer community."
It makes sense: "As certain open-source projects become more strategic to their businesses, they want to have more comments and insights," she said.
Functions as a Service
Dana Gardner, principal analyst with Interarbor Solutions, told us the open-source trend he sees as most important today involves serverless computing, which includes functions-as-a-service (FaaS). The open-source project working on this technology, OpenFaaS, is a cloud-agnostic way to write code to one standard without having to worry about the underlying virtual servers or cloud providers, said Gardner.
"It gives you an upgrade path, despite being completely decoupled from any particular cloud provider's platform," he said. FaaS "has captured the interest of developers and operators, in enterprises big and small." A major benefit of the project, like so many open-source efforts, is that it is aimed at keeping the lock-in potential low and reinforcing the ability to leverage new technology with low risk and low cost.
"With OpenFaaS you are baking functions into Docker containers so you can run those as standard microservices outside of the OpenFaaS platforms," Gardner said. "This is not necessarily serverless. You still have to manage the underlying servers. But it does allow you to take advantage of your existing Kubernetes, Nomad or Docker Swarm Clusters."
For the channel, this could be a growing market for bringing newfangled services to customers who are seeking new ideas in IT service delivery.
Market Stabilization Is Here
Gartner analyst Thomas Murphy sees the stabilization of the open-source marketplace as critical to open source becoming "either the foundation or complete solution" for companies. Stability is also key for getting partners to invest in skills and solutions.
According to Gartner, open source is so pervasive today that it is being used in mission-critical workloads by more than 90 percent of IT organizations worldwide. That provides potential opportunities for channel partners around the world.
"Open source has been around a long time, and it is woven into every piece of software we have used for years," said Murphy. "Because developers drive the market, because it creates the best potential for innovation, because software patent law is a mess, because corporations want the best efficiency, it was almost inevitable" for this shift to occur.
SMBs Adopting OSS
Analyst Tirena Dingeldein of Capterra, which focuses on small businesses, said she sees open-source software being used more and more by the channel to help solve the IT problems of customers of all sizes.
"Open-source options are often free, to encourage the collaborative element that naturally increases the functionality of the software," said Dingeldein. "With the right technical knowledge on an SMB team, they can get an almost custom-made software solution for whatever issue they're facing."
Those capabilities and strengths that larger enterprises see in open-source software are just as important to smaller businesses and to the channel partners who work with them.
"Today's worker wants to collaborate easily, and open-source software allows them to create a solution that directly solves their team's problems," she said. "Also, the growing number of SMBs facing budget obstacles leads to the adoption, and subsequent adaptation, of open-source software. SMBs are using flexible open-source tools to fill in service holes that they otherwise can't afford to solve."