Open Source and the New World of Enterprise IT

From its beginning as an enterprise software company, VMware has had an active relationship with the open source community. But this should come as no surprise. The focus and innovations of the open source community in virtualization and cloud technologies has, in many respects, progressed in parallel with VMware. Cloud Foundry, the leading open source, multi-cloud application platform for global enterprises, originated in VMware; and both Spring Source and Pivotal Software, two key drivers of open source innovations, have strong connections with the company.

VMware’s close relationship with the open source community also reflects the enhancements that community brings to VMware products. VMware encouraged the creation of a developer ecosystem large enough to leverage and take advantage of the possibilities of VMware virtualization. “We wouldn’t have been able to support all that,” says VMware Executive Vice President and CTO, Ray O’Farrell, “so we opened up our model to allow others to provide their own drivers. We opened the APIs so they could plug directly into our products.”

Adopting a DevOps Mentality

Open source technologies are now pervasive throughout the enterprise. There is a massive number of applications and application stacks based on Linux, primarily in the data center. The most advanced container and identity management technologies are also based on open source. According to O’Farrell, open source “has opened up a new world of applications.” As a result, the majority of software engineers working in DevOps tends to be heavily involved in open source, a reflection of the speed of innovation and the collaborative nature of both worlds. This is especially true if the DevOps engineers are working in cloud-native applications, container technologies, and other cloud-related technologies that are, for the most part, intricately involved in open source. 

The benefits of open source to the enterprise abound: improving technology agility, speed, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness; attracting some of the industry’s top talent; and using the community to improve maintenance and security, essentially crowd-sourcing both to the smartest people on the block. These benefits go straight to the heart of why, as O’Farrell says, “Developer-driven IT is the new IT.” By its very definition, open source enables creativity and experimentation on an enterprise-size scale. As a consequence, many DevOps-based enterprise solutions have their origins, at least in part, in open source projects.

As enterprises transform themselves into digital businesses, IT is transforming itself in concert. And in this new reality, “the organization’s competitive ability depends on its developers”—the same developers who are the most engaged with the open source community. “The result,” says O’Farrell, “is that more and more organizations are adopting a DevOps mentality.” This mindset is  characterized by a collaborative approach to a high velocity software development and release lifecycle—often called CI/CD—that breaks down traditional IT and development silos, fosters a shared accountability for quality releases, and often features a fearless attitude when it comes to launching new solutions.

Some Assembly May Be Required

The evolution to a DevOps-first orientation does not come without challenges to the enterprise. Especially with open source projects, developers often focus on advancing a particular algorithm or way of achieving a goal, and far less on enterprise readiness or completeness. To compensate, enterprises need to be prepared to have resources dedicated to working with the open source solutions and making them ready for the enterprise. From security to scaling, making open source ready for production requires a significant investment and expertise. As O’Farrell puts it, “Some assembly may be required.”

As a commercially-licensed software company, VMware’s decades of experience  designing and deploying enterprise, production-ready solutions helps lead the way in resolving these issues. While VMware’s products are not available as open source, a vast majority of the company’s products share some percentage of open source in their DNA. “We offer those enterprises who want to become digitally-ready organizations a business-friendly partner that creates a ‘win-win’ on both sides.” And as a result, O’Farrell says, VMware is ideally positioned to “be part and parcel of the new world of IT.”

A Future in Open Source

Signaling that greater involvement, VMware named Dirk Hohndel, a prominent leader of the open source community, to the position of vice president and chief open source officer in the summer of 2016. Hohndel is tasked with reinvigorating VMware’s open source efforts and strategy, and driving common values and processes across the company. Even more recently, VMware announced that it’s upgrading its membership in The Linux Foundation to gold, the second-highest level of corporate support and sponsorship for one of the most influential consortiums built around the open source community.

As VMware begins to deliver more products as a service running in the cloud, the company’s relationship to the open source community is only expected to grow. And for O’Farrell, the excitement is just beginning. The innovations that will come out of VMware’s relationship with the open source community, he predicts, will change cloud computing in ways we may not even be able to imagine.

“Get ready for a new paradigm of programming: serverless programming. It’s the ultimate virtualization,” O’Farrell concludes.