When The Going Gets Tough, Call On Open Source

It used to be that open source was not "industrial" enough for the big jobs, now it is just the opposite

There was a time not that long ago when one of the knocks on open source was that it was not scalable or "tough enough" for the biggest most demanding jobs.  It was fine for personal use and fooling around, but if you wanted industrial strength, enterprise ready software, open source just wasn't up to it.  That attitude has really been stood on its head recently.

It hit home for me a few weeks ago when I was interviewing some of the security folks from Akamai. Akamai was running a campaign and sponsoring the Security Bloggers Network, of which I am the founder and manager. In talking to Andy Ellis and Michael Smith of Akamai (you can listen to that conversation if you like below), they informed me that Akamai can carry up to 25% of the traffic on the Internet at any given moment in time. With that kind of traffic load, off-the-shelf commercial security products just couldn't fit the bill. Akamai had to basically create a lot of the security programs they use in house. According to Ellis and Smith, most of these solutions started by taking open source programs and customizing them to Akamai's industrial strength needs.

But Akamai is not alone on calling on open source when the going gets tough. The cloud would not exist today without open source driving its scalability and n+1 capacities. What about all of the huge social network sites. Where would they be without open source? Programs like MongoDB (story on them coming tomorrow), Cassandra, Hadoop, Couchbase and MemCache are powering these millions of users and networks.

Even the last bastion of commercial software, the enterprise is realizing the industrial strength power of open source. According to reports I have read anywhere from 85 to 98% of enterprises are using open source. Think about it, 85 to 98 percent.  Just about 9 out of 10 enterprises agree that open source is a viable option.

The other interesting thing about all of this open source for the tough jobs thinking, is that just about every one of these open source projects have given rise to viable commercial companies that support and service them.  Not just the 5 billion in revenue Red Hat, but companies like EnterpriseDB, DataStax and 10Gen are carving out viable business models supporting commercial grade open source. The commerical open source business model is under going a revival after a rocky couple of years.

So the question then is, was open source always this good and people just didn't give it a chance? Perhaps commercial software really wasn't as good as it was cracked up to be? I think it is a little of both actually. But there is one other factor that plays into this. Open source projects are allowing companies that may otherwise be competitors to cooperate. By collaborating on Linux, IBM and Red Hat put aside the drive for profits for the common good of all companies using Linux.  It really is an open source fairytale come true.

This cooperation for the benefit of all is something that Matthew Aslett at the 451 Group has noted in his Chaos Theory blog for a long time now. It really signals a new age in open source and this is where Matthew and I perhaps disagree a new era in commerical open source success.

Finally, what does this mean for the future? If open source is clearly so superior for these big jobs; if open source is so perfect for the cloud; will we see a time when commercial software is just an also ran in the software race?  I am not saying that just yet. But it is heading that way.

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