Are You Locked-In With Commercial Open Source Software?
In this blog, we discuss the commercialization of open source software, the key differences between open source and commercial open source software, and how organizations can avoid vendor lock-in with commercial OSS.
- Today’s Most Used Open Source Software
- Today's Commercial Open Source Software
- Community Supported Open Source Software
- Commercial Open Source Vendor Lock-In and How to Avoid It
Today’s Most Used Open Source Software
In the 2023 State of Open Source Report, a collaboration between OpenLogic by Perforce and the Open Source Initiative (OSI), we surveyed industry professionals around the world across industries about the use of open source software in their organizations. We asked questions related to their selection criteria and technical support challenges with open source software. We loosely covered the top 100 most used open source projects in the world, from Linux distributions and data technologies to DevOps and artificial intelligence (AI).
One of the most interesting facts about those top 100 open source projects was that almost all of them have commercial versions of the software. This means that these open source projects have at least one organization (in some cases multiple organizations) doing business commercializing open source software.
The Commercialization of Open Source Software
The state of today’s open source software reflects that commercialization. While individual developers continue creating and improving open source libraries, we also have hundreds of popular open source projects with many contributor developers from companies interested in what they consider strategic open source projects. For commercial purposes, or as fundamental parts of their technology stacks, companies assign employees to work on open source projects full-time as well as to participate and contribute to open source foundations and other nonprofit organizations promoting open source and open standards.
The Origins of Open Source Projects
Some of the most popular open source projects have started in organizations such as Google (Android, Angular, Kubernetes, Go, Flutter, TensorFlow, etc.), Meta/Facebook (React, React Native, PyTorch, etc.), and Microsoft (Typescript, .NET, Visual Studio Code, ONNX, etc.). Those open source projects have benefited many software developers and have become the building blocks of many other applications.
Other companies have started internal projects and then open-sourced them, ultimately becoming highly popular thanks to their investments and resources. Doing so has helped them build successful businesses — for example, Cloudbees with Jenkins and more recently Jenkins X; Confluent with Apache Kafka; Databricks with Apache Spark; and HashiCorp with Vagrant and Terraform. Of course, that's just a handful of the most successful companies commercializing open source software.
Today's Commercial Open Source Software
The most used open source projects in the world are commercialized in two predominant models:
- Open Core - which refers to offering open source software with value-added proprietary paid features.
- Software-As-A-Service (SaaS) - which refers to offering cloud hosting of open source software.
These are today’s most popular business models for commercializing open source software, and they have had a tremendous success and impact globally.
This commercialization brings us to a dichotomy of open source options: open source software and commercial open source software. Based on the top 100 most used open source projects, and the previously provided company examples, many might think that to consume, deploy, and integrate top open source software, they must buy licenses or subscriptions from technology companies offering commercial open source software. CIOs, CISOs, engineering, and IT operations executives are challenged to provide support to their IT and software professionals, who in turn must support their customers. This understanding of how open source software should be consumed and supported is often misunderstood.
Community Supported Open Source Software
Open source code and packaged open source software is available from public repositories and is supported by its corresponding maintainers and community. Beyond the top 100, there are 1,000's of open source projects with internal governance and many contributors. In many cases, these projects become part of open source foundations.
The three largest open source foundations include the Linux Foundation and all its affiliated foundations, with over 1,000 projects; the Apache Software Foundation with more than 200 projects; and the Eclipse Foundation with over 400 projects. These software foundations are non-profit organizations with diverse members that provide the organizational, legal, and financial resources to grow open source projects. At the same time, they provide guidance and direction to keep projects open through harmonious collaboration by all members, which, for the most part, represent companies invested in those open source technologies.
As a side note, it is important to highlight that open source software foundations are sponsored by all types of companies, not only tech companies. Financial institutions, utilities, telecommunications, and other industries are fully onboard in the open source movement.
The most used open source projects, most of which are part of open source foundations, have large ecosystems of complementary software components, as well as the community commitment for release cycles and long-term updates and patches support. Some of these popular open source projects have hundreds of code contributions producing robust and stable software which begs the following question.
Why Do Companies Pay for Open Source Software?
Do organizations need more than the available open source software (open core) and need proprietary features? Are organizations okay with hosting software and data on multiple clouds and by multiple vendors? Or is the real question about commercial open source software related to the need for commercial technical support?
To some organizations, receiving only community support that includes public forums, public documentation, and visibility of all the code could be a deterrent from using a specific open source technology. Some people argue that more information is available online for popular open source software, and there is no need for paid versions. Other organizations have experts and, in some cases, open source contributors with the proficiency to address any support challenge.
In contrast, there are organizations with strict IT policies and internal or external compliance requirements that require formal technical support. Globally, companies are experiencing shortages of technical staff with the needed open source skills. Whatever the reason for using commercial open source software, there is a fearsome state that companies of all sizes try to avoid: lock-in.
Commercial Open Source Vendor Lock-In and How to Avoid It
There are different ways to be locked in with a specific vendor providing commercial open source software. Lock-in could happen when an organization is dependent on the proprietary features added to the open core or because complex integration with other software makes it extremely difficult to replace the software. If the only reason for lock-in with a commercial open source vendor is the technical support provided, that is the easiest type of lock-in to break.
For over two decades, we have seen organizations build their software, including mission-critical software, with the building blocks of open source software, not commercial versions. Technologies evolve rapidly and architectures change. Being locked into vendors is a suboptimal scenario financially and, more importantly, in terms of the flexibility to evolve and use different technologies.
The option to acquire open source technical support without being locked into an open core or SaaS vendor is possible. Companies dedicated to open source technical support with experts on various open source technologies are available to provide enterprise-level technical support across open source technology stacks. providing an option to avoid vendor lock-in. In fact, organizations can even consolidate vendors for support.
The bottom line is that there are options to use and receive support for open source software and they don’t necessarily require a commercial open source software license or subscription. Avoid vendor lock-in, and your options will open up.
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