Open Source Learnings from VMware China
“The spirit of innovation in VMware is very strong. We try to see opportunities from the customer’s viewpoint. Whether the final result comes from an open source approach, a combination of open source and our solutions, or our technology exclusively—we give our customers choice.”
These are the words of Dr Ying Li, VMware Vice President of Strategic Projects and Transformation based in Greater China. His team is focused on growing emerging and new product adoption in the Chinese market. That means not only dealing with customers’ existing infrastructure but also looking ahead to their next generation platform aspirations.
For Ying, open source is becoming a larger part of both his conversations and recommendations as companies look for software that is interoperable, scalable and secure. This is something he notes with a smile as China was a late adopter of open source.
In his eyes, there were two main reasons for this:
1. Until the late 1990s, software wasn’t a focus for China. In 1999, its software industry amassed sales of $5.3 billion, compared to United States’ $220 billion. But China’s 10th Five-Year Plan, which ran from 2001-2005, changed all that. Software became a critical pillar for the Chinese government. The country never looked back. By 2018, the sector’s total software revenue amounted to $940 billion. Now, there is a thriving developer scene and China’s top software companies, like Tencent and Alibaba, are known worldwide.
2. The release of Android in China in 2011 kick-started the open source movement. Its rapid consumer adoption made Linux, on which Android is based, one of the most popular development platforms. This created a new culture where Chinese developers and companies began contributing to open source initiatives, like OpenStack and Vue.js. It also plays a more prominent role in communities found on software development platforms, like GitHub.
These days, Chinese developer contributions are on the rise. China is the third-largest contributor to Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) projects in terms of contributors and committers after the U.S. and Germany. It is the second largest contributor to GitHub, too. VMware is a strong supporter of open source as both a platinum member of the Linux Foundation and a founding member of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. As Dirk Hohndel, VMware’s Chief Open Source Officer, puts it:
Open source software has impacted nearly every product, every project, every data center, every interaction that we have with technology today. Companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and many others of the internet generation would be unthinkable without open source.
If you take Kubernetes for example, VMware is among the top contributors over the past year, with VMware China developers actively participating. According to Ying, this growing local momentum in open source is a result of the Chinese government placing more emphasis on adhering to international software regulation and respecting intellectual property protection. This created a shift in mindset away from Chinese companies seeking to develop their own proprietary software to one that embraces collaboration with others globally.
“The growing open source community in China has long term benefits for our customers, as well as the technologies we’re developing. When you have a community, you have more people to exchange ideas and more agility when it comes to problem solving. We want to provide value to the global community and our customers, and actively encourage our developers and engineers to contribute to the open source community. For us, this approach isn’t about expecting a quick commercial return but instead understanding our customers’ needs,” Ying says.
Ying points to Project Harbor as an example. The cloud native registry originated as an internal VMware project in China back in 2014 and was open sourced in 2016. Since then, Harbor enjoys widespread community involvement. Today, Harbor is the de facto open source choice of many enterprise users and partners for managing container images and building cloud native applications. The CNCF accepted it as a sandbox-level hosted project in July 2018, and it was elevated to Incubate status only a few months later.
“VMware has over a thousand engineers in China, each working to develop current and future technologies that will keep our customers competitive. But we are also very aware of our responsibilities as a collaborative partner to the open source community and we are committed to being part of while never losing sight of what is right for our customers.” —Dr. Ying Li, VMware VP of Strategic Projects and Transformation, Greater China