Open source software has long been seen as a movement towards collaborative development. In a conversation with BusinessLine , Chris Wright, Vice-President & CTO at Red Hat, talks about some of the challenges the open source community is facing and why it is important to set expectations right when it comes to promoting open source software. Edited excerpts:
With over 12 years at Red Hat, how have you seen the company’s transformation over the year?
It has been a big transformation. When I started, we were a Linux company. When I joined Red Hat, my responsibility was to help make Red Hat a virtualisation company.
So, I worked in bringing the hypervisor to Red Hat. Since then we’ve grown exponentially. We’ve added new products to the portfolio starting and today we have a pretty awesome product portfolio, including infrastructure, application development, management and automation. These individual pieces have now started to show value.
Initially we had Linux, middleware. Today, the combination of Linux as the underpinning platform brings a lot of value to the customers.
The value of combining all the products together is starting to show through and that’s very exciting.
Given how companies such as Google and Amazon open sourced a lot of their software, open source community has been unable to match up to the quality of applications run by these two companies. Open Stack is still lagging behind AWS for example. Is there a lack of effort from the open source community?
I wouldn’t say there’s lack of effort. There’s always challenges for commercialisation of productisation phase of a development effort.
Open source community excels at generating technology and that’s more of a project focussed.
Making the technology consumable typically is more of a commercial endeavour and that’s very much a focus for a company like Amazon.
It is also very much our focus. We help enterprises consume technology from open source communities.
Is it becoming increasing difficult for open source communities to compete against the likes of Google and Amazon?
We do pay attention to that and we want open source community to thrive. Seeing companies like Google and Amazon take in-house projects and make them external open source projects is a good indicator that open source is an important part of everybody’s strategy.
Even our customers are asking how they can take advantage of open source efforts. The challenge is that as there are more and more, you see fewer and fewer vendors involved in a single project to the point where it might be a single vendor project.
So, it is open source by licence but not by community participation and diversity of inputs. I think there’s tension there and this is the area where we focus on and helping build those diverse communities.
Are some of the open source projects from the big companies challenging for open source community to participate in?
First, there’s commercial challenge — how do you really build the consumable side of the technology. Pick any company and have them open up their technology and try to build a community around that presents a different challenge.
The right balance between letting the community grow and thrive and the natural tendency of wanting to hold on and dictate where it goes is very important.
The most successful projects are those with complete hands-off approach letting the community dictate the evolution of the project. It is unusual for some company to do that.
What is your vision for the open source community?
On the community side, my efforts would be on how do we build sustainable communities. I do have some concerns that as we get more and more traditional corporate participation in communities, that we risk fundamentally changing the experience in the community. That doesn’t build sustainable long-term projects.
I think it is advocacy to make sure people understand the value of participation. It’s not just consumption. We’ve had a period of time we saw a proliferation of foundations around software.
I think every software project to have a foundation is not a great way to create open source communities.
We are advocating to find that right balance.
Bigger foundations have big marketing budgets and that marketing can completely distort expectations versus reality and can create misled expectations.
If a software barely works, you’ll probably not give it another try later. We need to be thinking in terms of not just building technologies but how we explain it to potential users and also be clear about what its maturity is currently.
You need to be clear if it really is production ready. That’s my concern that foundations with large marketing budgets can over amplify a project.
For example in Cloud Native Foundation, projects would come in, with Kubernetes being the flagship project, there wasn’t clear indication of the maturity levels of many of the projects wherein some projects were just getting started while others had a large community around them already.
People should realise that just because a project is associated with a big movement that it is ready for prime time.
How important is the open source community in India?
India is very big in terms of consuming open source software but it is still work in progress when it comes to contribution to open source projects.
What we are seeing now in last few years is setting up of large open source practice by large IT services companies.
My prediction is that India will become the power house for software development including open source.
India has highly educated software-oriented workforce which will be making enough contributions to open source. We expect to see significant development around AI.
Several Indian companies are asking us how they can contribute to open source community. Several Indian telecom operators are interested in contributing.
India has a very well-educated developer population. It’s the right building blocks. Indian developers have been participating in open source projects for quite a long time. Can the contribution be more? Absolutely. We have a conference called DevConf.in, which we are bringing to India this year.