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Open source powers the cloud ecosystem

In a world powered by software, there’s simply too much software to write. Linux Foundation Jim Zemlin believes no one company can do it all, and that’s why the best tech companies in the world all use open source.

By Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of the Linux Foundation
Jan 2017

    Key takeaways:

  • Any organization or individual can use open source software and create technology products and services that will define the future.
  • If 80 percent of the software in any technology product or service is open source, companies who can manage external R&D will win.

Linux: Forging history

Open source is hugely important, and the Linux Foundation is working with thousands of organizations like Huawei to build the greatest shared technology in history. Linux is the best example of the power of open source and collective development.

Today, over 3,900 developers working for over 100 companies are producing over 53,000 files, 21 million lines of code – a Linux platform – worth billions of dollars. Linux literally runs most of modern society, it runs the vast majority of the world' stock markets, and it runs the global economy. It holds the majority market share in the mobile device-embedded systems industry. It runs virtually all high-performance computing systems. Linux is by far the most successful software endeavor in history.

And it's not just the breadth or size of Linux; it’s also the velocity of Linux, which continues to accelerate: 10,800 lines of code are added, 5,300 lines of code are subtracted, and 1,875 lines of code are modified in Linux. One project every single day. Think about that, Linux changes eight times per hour.

No single company and no single organization can keep up with that development pace. And the good news is they don't have to. Any organization, any individual can use Linux for open source software and leverage it to create the technology products and services that are going to define the future. Because, the future is open, and open is here to stay.

Open is here 

Today, there are over 3.8 million open source contributors creating 31 billion lines of code across a wide variety of open source repositories that are available to anyone on earth. There are billions of dollars being invested in open technology based companies. In Silicon Valley where I’m from, hundreds of companies are receiving investment, and ten of those companies are worth a billion dollars each. This is an amazing transformation from a world where technology companies that build everything themselves to one where you cannot compete if you try to build everything yourself.

We’re entering a new era of open source. The first generation was somewhat simple. Open source software was used to create a free alternative to existing proprietary technology, whether competing in operating systems with Linux or in databases with MySQL. These free alternatives to existing technology were essentially shrinking markets by offering free alternatives.

But that's all changed. Open source is opening up new markets. Open source software is creating new ecosystems. Open source software is creating the interoperability standards that power these ecosystems, whether it's in big data, or if you see companies based on Hadoop, or whether it's in container and cloud technology with open source projects like Coopernetics and Docker. What we’re seeing here is the industry is recognizing that we can create new opportunities and new ecosystems by working with open source software, because the future of the cloud is going to be made of open source software.

At virtually every layer of the stack, an open source project is leading, in innovation, in developer adoption, in terms of the pace of development, in terms of every perspective of building ecosystems around them, whether it's at the lowest layer of the stack in data plane services to projects such as Open vSwitch and others, or whether it's a little higher up the stack in management or in orchestration with OPEN-O.

I stood on stage at the World Mobile Congress earlier this year and announced the OPEN-O project with Huawei and China Mobile. China Mobile said at that event that their future, the OSS (the operational support system that they use to run their network) is going to be based on open source software: OSS based on OSS.

Think about that. That’s an amazing change. And all the way up to programming frameworks, like Node.js, with server-side JavaScript which is the fastest growing web technology platform in the world. At every layer of the stack, we see a form of organic innovation that you've heard about.

Thousands of companies and tens of thousands of developers are all competing to get the best code into those projects.

And at the Linux Foundation, we host almost every one of these projects. We thought to ourselves that in addition to these projects, which are doing extremely well at every layer of the stack, how can we accelerate innovation up and down the stack?

As we’re working with companies like Huawei, we created a series of new initiatives in the last couple of years, to create more secure and stable software for everyone. In security, we worked with organizations like Intel, Huawei, and over 20 top technology companies in the world to create an initiative where we can teach open source developers to write more secure software in the first place, to do better threshold modeling and testing, and formulate better responsible disclosure policies.

Our idea here is that if we can teach all of these developers to write more secure code on day one, there will be less vulnerabilities when open source software is deployed as commercial products much later. We’re creating a governance structure that allows all of these open source projects to create great ecosystems, to be able to scale up incredibly fast, and meet the needs of thousands of developers working continuously in harmony. We’re creating a governance structure that allows all of these companies to invest in these open source projects and know that the intellectual property assets, that the code itself, will be freely available for everyone for decades to come.

We’re accelerating open source by teaching thousands of organizations how to manage intellectual property (IP). In the technology industry that’s based on IP, we want to teach organizations how to manage the open source licenses, the patent commitments, and other intellectual property aspects of sharing. We want to do this because it’s important to teach everyone that sharing is important, but also how to keep what you want to keep while sharing at the same time.

Finally, the Linux Foundation is working with organizations like Huawei to create training and certification programs to ensure that as the pace of open source development accelerates, the availability of practitioners of that software will meet demand in the market as people adopt this software.

Huawei is leading the charge

It’s truly an amazing time to be involved in open source. And Huawei is leading this effort. Huawei is a top contributor to OpenStack, which is one of the biggest cloud computing efforts in the world. They are a top five contributor to the Hadoop project, which is defining the big data space. They are a top two contributor to and a founding member of the cloud native computing foundation, which is home to Coopernetics and other cloud orchestration projects. They are a top four contributor to Spark, and they’re leading almost every major open source project.

Huawei is not just a top open source company in China; it’s a top open source company in the world. And here’s the important thing, it's deliberate and a lot of hard work. You see, if 80 percent of the software in any technology product or service is open source, which is where we are today, companies who know how to manage external research and development are going to win.

If most of the code in your products comes from outside your organization, you need to be good at leveraging open source. And so, more than five years ago, Huawei made the decision to take this seriously. They created organizations inside their company that specialize in managing open source, created the strategy to pick the right source projects to base their products on, and integrated open source development into their procurement process and into their actual engineering processes. They did this to bring code in to their company, modify it, create products with it, and then share the changes that they made to that code back with the open source projects that they got the code from in the first place, creating a virtuous innovation cycle, not just within Huawei, but with hundreds of other companies as well.

This took deliberate planning, this took training, and it took considerable effort. And you can see here, by just looking at the results of that endeavor, how effective it has been. Because Huawei understands what all leading technology companies understand, there’s simply too much software to be written for any one company to write.

As we all work together to create the greatest shared technology asset in history, it's not just that there’s too much code for any company to write by itself, it is in fact a more important idea: all of us together are smarter than any one of us is alone. 

Good companies create products, but great companies create ecosystems based on open source.