Authored by: Graham Pullen, Vice President, Sales, Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ), EDB
We’ve heard time and time again that the open-source model benefits business. Enterprises certainly agree. A top-ten bank in Indonesia realised savings in licensing and maintenance costs while ensuring a high level of performance with open-source software, while a leading Singapore insurance firm simplified long-term code and data management with an open-source deployment.
52% of APAC enterprises surveyed by RedHat said they use open-source databases, which indicates that it is well-accepted today that enterprises will use open-source to drive innovation faster, and at significantly lower cost. In the case of open-source software, you have a social collaborative development dynamic, and a whole lot of transparency about the development process.
Peers can review what’s under development. There's literally global visibility into the body of work to create something that's really valuable and powerful. It’s a meritocracy: the best ideas rise to the top of the priority list, and move forward the fastest.
But did you know that the differences in open-source models could impact the success of your technology implementation? There’s the original open source, and there is what was originally open source, so to speak.
Completely open and free
The original aim of open-source platforms is to maintain an independent community with lots of vendors and independent individuals participating. Members of the community invest in the technology and tackle complex problems they encounter because it is simply the solution they would like to see. Anyone can make use of the code already shared to create something new and useful.
The more everyone contributes, the better the solution becomes. They don’t necessarily have a commercial equation in mind, such as trading their time to create a proportional amount of value. Nor are they looking for a proportional amount of payback. This passion is what makes the original open-source model so powerful and compelling.
I would argue that this is how the best software in the world is developed, as opposed to one company building what they think customers will like. Such open-source communities self-select for individuals who are proactive. Collaborators are also typically the smartest minds in the world, setting their own directions on the project and applying a perfectionist’s attention to detail on what they contribute.
With this model, everyone has access to the data, and maximises the number of insights that can be generated from it. People of varying perspectives can scrutinise the source code and fix problems. This has resulted in fewer bugs per line of code compared to bug rates in equivalent commercial software.
This is where the open-source database PostgreSQL plays. With the Postgres license, you can take the technology and use it for anything you want.
Some vendors have identified opportunities to offer value-added services on top of the open-source technology, including technical support, security hardening, and ways to increase interoperability. They typically offer a freemium community edition, and a separate paid enterprise edition of the open-source technology. Others routinely contribute to the core technology, providing benefits that allow organisations to scale.
Such commercial support is essential for open-source development because developers are needed on a full-time basis to build complex software applications that address today’s challenges. The results cannot be achieved organically within open-source communities when contributors are sharing only in their spare time. Red Hat adopted this model for Linux, while EDB harnesses Postgres in a similar way.
Enterprises also need commercial entities in order to have a service level agreement. They need a phone number to call, guaranteed responsiveness, and the ability to partner with someone. Open source communities offer none of those things. You can’t contract with them, and they can’t be a reliable partner. That’s not their role - but it’s one of the key ways a commercial vendor can provide support.
The business models can deviate widely from here on out. For example, one vendor can effectively govern the community and decide what happens to the technology. The solution could evolve into a proprietary version that looks quite different from the original open-source software. A vendor could also change the software license for their version of the open-source software.
The trend today is to create custom licenses that change the rules. Recently, Elastic changed its product license in response to Amazon taking their products and offering them directly as a service. Similarly, back in 2018, MongoDB changed to a Server Side Public License, causing much controversy within their user community.
The downside and upside of Open Source
While open source is commonly perceived as free, public and collaborative, the platforms are not similarly built. When MongoDB and Elastic changed their licensing agreements, the companies that relied on that software encountered sudden changes in how to make use of those open source projects.
That’s why it is essential for IT leaders to consider who is financing and running the open source project, and how they may be affected. When open source projects are run by a single commercial entity, there is no assurance of continuity: if the company fails, so does the project.
To avoid such risks, choose community-driven open source projects that are not financed and controlled by commercial companies. PostgreSQL adopts a permissive license that has minimal restrictions on how users can use, modify and redistribute software written under this license, and often permits use in proprietary works. The software is governed by internal rules that prevent commercialisation and sole control of the software, as it is built by many and owned by none. The Postgres community is diverse, made of contributors that represent different disciplines, regions and companies, which has contributed to its development as one of the best technologies produced over the past 25 years.
As in any industry, some players will be bigger, better, faster-to-market, or have unique offerings over others. What you need to decide on is whether the software is flexible enough to fit your needs and has the right total cost of ownership model, not just for today, but also for an increasingly unpredictable tomorrow.