I run VMware’s Open Source Technology Center and I often get asked to articulate why VMware wants to be active in the open source space. Here are some of the things I always try to mention in response.
Firstly, engaging with the open source community exposes us to incredible diversity and quality of thought. That’s hugely valuable to us. Pick any open source technical area and we’ll be working with some of the smartest and most creative people in the field, even when that field isn’t an area of strategic focus for us.
When we work with the open source community, we’re also working with people supported by other companies who are exploring use cases of interest to them. These are useful for us to know about and understand, even if they aren’t ones that we could justify funding ourselves. Having access to these additional use cases helps us build more robust, general-purpose platforms that are of more use to more people.
Thirdly, as we collaborate with our open source colleagues, we often find areas of common infrastructure where we are less interested in bringing our own value-adds than in working on things that we all need. As is often the case with technology, we regularly need to work together on things that everybody needs but nobody sells. Open source is a really good way to get everyone in an area of common interest to work constructively upon the basic technologies that we all depend on – and do it with maximum efficiency. Whether it’s on a low-level operating system or a cloud orchestrator, we get where we need to go more robustly, with greater interoperability at a lower cost.
Finally, we see open source as an accelerator to innovation. This one is pretty simple: open source lets us solve more complex problems faster by building more capable platforms.
It’s worth noting that as our industry has steadily built better platforms, open source technologies have steadily moved up the software stack. It started with low level systems like Linux. Then open source took over the web serving space and databases. Next, it took over containers and the orchestration of those containers, and most recently the services that run around the orchestrated container.
As open source platforms have moved up the stack, we’ve been able to apply them to a much broader set of problems. They’ve scaled out, in other words, and that has prompted even broader adoption. As this has occurred, customers have been keener to avoid being locked into a particular solution. They want broad, general-purpose platforms to build on, and these can only be built today with the input of a broad range of talents solving for a wide variety of use cases.
While early projects like Linux were derived from a formal standard that we all wanted to implement, we’re now moving too fast for that model to work. But without a formal standard, it’s all the more essential that we have open governance and community collaboration, where we work together to understand each other’s use cases and from that build common APIs that we agree should underpin the platforms that we build solutions on top of. Only open source can give us that.
Of course, this also means that none of us can really know what’s next. At VMware, we’re fine with that. But we also want to be part of the conversation about where things are going and to help shape the future. To that end, we’re taking input from our customers and engaging across a wide range of use cases so that we can help build these well-engineered, broadly-useful platforms.
The overwhelming message we hear from our customers is that they want to be free to focus on building the best solutions for their industry segment that they can – and do it on top of a common infrastructure that we’ve built together. So that’s what we’re helping them do.
We aim to be:
- a partner at least as savvy as they are in the technical projects that they care about and deem relevant to their future.
- an active and influential participant in the continuing development of well-maintained and innovative open source technologies.
- a provider of powerful and reliable products and solutions that they know will work with the open source software that we are both dependent upon.
That’s why we don’t just stand back and observe. We are investing in relevant open source projects to ensure they continue to be viable for both our products and our customers’ use cases.
When we get involved, we do it in a number of ways:
- We contribute to building the basic platforms, like Linux and Kubernetes.
- We originate open source projects ourselves – and our customers look for us to provide ways for them to interact with these projects and to automate the services and products that we provide them in non-prescriptive ways. These are projects that we continue to maintain and build so that our customers can use our products in a way that makes sense to them.
- We help with projects that aren’t essential from our perspective but that our customers want to use on infrastructure and solutions that we provide.
- Finally, we are available to our customers as a source of reliable advice. We want them to know that we are present and influential in the projects that they care about and that we are committed to them over the long term.
Engineers in VMware’s Open Source Technology Center do all these things. But we’re not alone. As our local, internal Open Source Day proved just a few weeks ago, we now have hundreds of additional VMware developers interested and involved in helping us be good open source citizens, contributing for the good of both individual projects and our industry as a whole.