Open source races to the top

Not only is open source producing the most exciting new software, it's creating a DMZ where big players can shape the future of enterprise tech

Last week's OSCON conference served to remind us that open source software is setting the pace. We've come a very long way from the old saw that "open source doesn't innovate." Instead, you might ask: Is innovation in enterprise software happening anywhere else other than in open source land?

Hadoop is at the center of the big data trend. OpenStack has the momentum in private cloud. Open source frameworks and IDEs absolutely dominate app dev, while all the leading NoSQL databases are open source. Do I need to mention that Android now powers more smartphones than any other mobile OS? Plus, Microsoft and Salesforce excepted, you'd be hard-pressed to find a cloud provider that uses anything but open source software to deliver its service.

[ IBM has thrown its weight behind Cloud Foundry, not long after it went all-in with OpenStack. | Other OSCON news: The open source job market is booming and GitHub departs from tradition by backing the MIT License. | See InfoWorld's Bossie Awards for the best of open source software. ]

IBM's public embrace of Cloud Foundry at OSCON provides a telling example of open source's pole position. As with OpenStack, IBM is providing code contributions, but the Cloud Foundry community will steer development. IBM, which loves to use open source software for its consulting engagements, reaps the benefits.

Jockeying for position

The Cloud Foundry example also shows that open source has become a stage where the shadowplay of big vendor politics ensues. Cloud Foundry is a core technology of Pivotal, spun out from VMware in April. From the beginning, the downloadable version of the Cloud Foundry PaaS (still in beta) was open source -- VMware built it and in 2011 made it available under an Apache 2 license. IBM's announcement that it will incorporate Cloud Foundry in its cloud platform and join the advisory board represents a strategic alliance with Pivotal.

How might that affect IBM's alliance with Red Hat, whose OpenShift platform competes directly with Cloud Foundry? I can imagine there are some unhappy campers at Red Hat right now. But IBM is smart -- as with OpenStack, it has very likely backed the winning horse. Cloud Foundry is one of the few PaaS plays that manifests itself as both a cloud service and locally installable version that will have special appeal to enterprises. Not to mention that in the recent InfoWorld comparison "Which freaking PaaS should I use?" Cloud Foundry came out on top.

But don't feel too sorry for Red Hat. It has become the greatest contributor of code to OpenStack, and the company's KVM hypervisor underlies the vast majority of OpenStack implementations. That has raised fears in some circles that the open source company might already have a lock on the OpenStack project, although Rackspace got the ball rolling. RHEL OpenStack Platform may one day grab hold of the data center the way Red Hat Enterprise Linux itself has dominated.

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