Managing the Opportunities and Challenges of Open Source Innovation

Scott Crenshaw, SVP of Strategy and Product, Rackspace
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Scott Crenshaw, SVP of Strategy and Product, Rackspace

Open source software continues to fuel the innovation in IT that is driving business growth. Not surprisingly, its adoption and usage within organizations large and small is greater than it has ever been because of its proven innovation, modularity and openness – which means companies are able to get more out of their software investments without high costs and vendor lock in.

Some of the most advanced and widely used infrastructure platforms are based on open source –Linux, Xen and Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) virtualization, OpenStack, Kubernetes and Docker for example. As the capability of these platforms grows, so does complexity. The fact is, modern infrastructure is getting more complicated, and the skills needed to configure, tune, operate, maintain and secure it are scarce. Few organizations have the ability or the appetite to become world-class experts in complex infrastructure. 

The situation is only magnified when an organization has multiple open source investments. And as organizations use diverse open source platforms, they are faced with the increasingly insurmountable operational challenge of making it all work together efficiently, reliably and safely.

  ​Organizations will continue to look to open source to power their clouds and drive mission-critical projects   

We are approaching a new juncture in the adoption of open source. The primary focus is no longer about the development of software; it is becoming how to successfully use the software. We’re approaching the era where operations reigns as the supreme challenge. I predict that managing operations will become the single-most defining theme of open source infrastructure for the next 10 years.

The Rise of Complexity Increases Demand for Managed Services

Take OpenStack for example. OpenStack, built on open source technology, is the fastest growing private cloud platform because of its rich feature set, vast ecosystem, and pace of innovation – all provided on an open platform.

But the complexity to build, run and manage OpenStack is beyond the skillset and expertise of most companies. OpenStack’s biggest challenge is that it is complex and hard to consume. This challenge isn’t unique to OpenStack; it applies to all cloud platforms. The fact is, cloud is complex. Indeed, RightScale’s 2016 State of the Cloud survey states that the number one cloud challenge is now lack of resources and expertise, supplanting security, which has long been the top concern.

And most companies today don’t just use one type of cloud. Most are using a combination of OpenStack for private cloud and AWS or Microsoft Azure public clouds to address their total cloud infrastructure needs. If the levels of complexity of OpenStack extend beyond the expertise of an organization, imagine the compounded difficulty when dealing with multiple cloud platforms.

Enterprises require a level of operational expertise that gives them successful outcomes and delivers efficiency across the whole of their infrastructure. But unless they are in the infrastructure business, most companies don’t need or want to become experts in operating infrastructure technology. IT departments are thin and budgets are constrained, and most organizations would rather use their limited IT resources on developing applications and customer interfaces to expand their businesses. On reaping the benefits of cloud, not creating and operating clouds.

It is for this reason that more and more enterprises say they want to consume infrastructure as a managed service. And the market data backs them up. 451 Research reports that managed services are projected to account for 36 percent of total cloud market revenue in 2018.

Open Source: The Next Generation

More than 15 years ago, the concept of the open source distribution was created. The distribution was a curated set of software components, easier to install and manage than pulling and compiling source code from “the wild.” This revolutionized open source adoption, and created successful open source business models. 

The open source distribution was a great construct for infrastructure a decade ago. But I predict it will be supplanted as the primary open source consumption model by managed services. Complex infrastructure will be consumed as a service, always on and always available – with strong SLA, similar to the way telephone services and other utilities are available.

Consuming infrastructure as a managed service delivers huge benefits. It lets organizations use open source without having to install, maintain and operate it themselves. It lets experts solve the complex problems of scaling, reliability, security, optimization, and governance, while giving users the capabilities they need, simply, cost effectively and on demand. 

At Rackspace, we pioneered this consumption model with OpenStack. Companies coming to us to build, manage and operate their private clouds, after trying (and often failing) to do it themselves, using both commercial distributions and upstream open source code. The common theme is that customers want the power of open source infrastructure, but they are challenged by the complexity inherent in operating it. This is why consuming open source as a managed service is easier, more efficient, and much more successful.

Organizations will continue to look to open source to power their clouds and drive mission-critical projects. And they’ll increasingly choose to consume open source as a managed service. 

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