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Report from OSCON: Open Source and the Enterprise

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Report from OSCON: Open Source and the Enterprise

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Recently, for the first time in several years, I had the opportunity to attend OSCON -- and found it very familiar yet also significantly changed, in ways that carry strong implications for the future of IT in the enterprise.

In the past, OSCON had the feel of a gathering of the clans -- if the clans were made up of strangely clad Burning Man types. Kilts, tattoos (one year Sourceforge actually gave away tats as its party favor!), and t-shirts with political slogans were always out in full force. And, of course, OSCON’s Portland location only reinforced this outre feel. This bohemian ambiance reflected open source’s strong association with ideological beliefs related to freedom and resistance to heavy-handed proprietary vendor tactics.

On the other hand, it’s important to note that OSCON also was permeated with a feverish atmosphere of innovation -- experimentation and invention made possible by the low-cost, highly malleable software associated with open source licensing. This flavor of innovation was evident as attendees and speakers associated with the so-called “webscale” companies came to be represented in both attendees and speakers; it’s no exaggeration to say that, absent open source, companies like Facebook, Pinterest, and their cousins could not possibly exist.

This year’s OSCON still maintained that iconoclastic, maverick spirit -- as evinced in one attendee’s question to me: do specific color hair streaks carry symbolic meaning? However, this year’s attendees had significant representation of a very different attendee profile -- what one might refer to as the Docker and polo shirt type -- that made very plain that OSCON has morphed into a, if not mainstream conference, one that has been adopted by the mainstream of IT. In a phrase, “enterprise IT.” My perception of this shift in attendee profile is backed up by these demographic numbers, supplied by O’Reilly Research:

  • Only around 10% of attendees are employed at small or startup companies, defined as companies with fewer than 25 employees
  • Nearly 50% of attendees work at enterprises, defined as over 1,000 employees
  • A shockingly large percentage of attendees (nearly 20%) work at companies made up for more than 10,000 workers

From my purview, looking over the conference, I gleaned several lessons that speak to the role of today’s open source:

  1. Enterprise IT has enthusiastically adopted open source as a fundamental element of its environment. Open source is now a mainstay of the enterprise software stack and the enterprise IT attendees came to absorb knowledge directly applicable to their quotidian tasks. And they certainly got their fill -- there were seemingly hundreds of sessions covering an enormous variety of technologies and uses.

  2. Applications have come to the fore. At one time, it seemed open source was associated more with operations than applications -- leading to the wry statement that the Internet was actually held together with Perl duct tape. If this observation were ever true, it is no longer. Many, many sessions focused on using open source components (or, commonly, collections of integrated components) to create highly scalable, robust, and fault-tolerant applications. Stated plainly, many enterprise applications are coming to resemble webscale companies and need to adopt the same tools and techniques they use for their applications. Certainly we at ActiveState see this in our customers and expect this trend to only grow even larger in the future.

  3. CSP desperation. One surprising thing to me was how many hosting/cloud service providers had booths in the expo hall. I wouldn’t have thought an open source conference would be very good trolling ground for their customers, but a number of hosting and cloud providers were present. I interpret this as how difficult this industry is, what with the big three (AWS, Microsoft, and Google) sucking the air out of the market. I will say that it was a relief not to see any CSP booths with “the enterprise cloud” as their tagline; even if a large proportion of the attendees actually work for enterprises, they don’t represent the portions of IT responsive to the “enterprise cloud” pitch.

Overall, the message of OSCON is clear: open source is, today, a highly-valued building block of enterprise IT. There is no longer a slightly shamefaced need for an enterprise developer to admit that he or she is leveraging open source software in an application. As enterprises more and more adopt the Third Platform trumpeted by IDC, open source will be a fundamental element of enterprise IT.

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