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Are open source and public cloud at odds?

Deloitte on Cloud Blog

Public cloud providers and open source project leaders often have conflicting objectives. Should enterprise be worried?

April 19, 2019

A blog post by David Linthicum, managing director, chief cloud strategy officer, Deloitte Consulting LLP

It’s been a long debate. As more public cloud providers offer open source systems, and public cloud providers modify them for their own purposes, the more open source communities get nervous. Are their worries valid? Should enterprises be nervous as well?

Let’s remember that both public cloud providers and open source project leaders have common as well as separate motivations.

What’s common is that they all want to spread the value of the software that they created through a community of developers and, in turn, to as many companies that might need it. This means that those who create the software get the most benefits, including companies that benefit directly from services and add-ons that surround an open source project.

Cloud providers want the same thing. However, they benefit directly from tenant fees that are charged no matter if you use open source software or not, so there is a strong profit motivation. This profit motivation may lead them to augment the open source systems by adding extensions to the open source code tree, or even by forking the code tree for their own purposes.

These moves usually involve making the open source systems native to the public cloud host, including hooks into security, governance, operations, storage, databases…anything that makes the use of the open source system “stickier” to that particular provider. When cloud providers push the open source systems in new and innovative directions, most other open source players can’t afford to follow that path. Therefore, many in the open source communities look at public cloud’s participation in open source projects as more of a hijacking than a collaboration.

The reality is that everyone has a point and a purpose. Cloud providers are like another software consumer and they have the right to leverage open source technology, as do all of us. However, they should be sensitive about the perceptions of those in the open source communities and work closer with those groups to ensure a mutual understanding as to the mutual benefit.

Enterprises should not get involved in these debates because they are likely to go away in a few years, after there is a leveling of both expectations and value. Cloud providers will look after their own interests, which include the interests of the enterprises they serve. At the same time, any use of open source systems should benefit the open source players, and, ultimately, the cloud providers will be core contributors. Win/win.

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