Popular Sunday 8th March 2020

Purity and Practicality: True Open Source Has Earned Its Trusted Place in Today’s Enterprise

By Ben Bromhead

Enterprises are now overloaded with choice when it comes to the breadth of their technology stack possibilities. One of the most important is deciding whether to move forward with open source or proprietary solutions (whether deployed in the cloud or or-prem). It’s a critical decision shaping the immediate and long-term future of any business’ technology strategy.

There’s been a particularly interesting shift over the past decade when it comes to technology selection. A decade ago it was common for businesses to describe themselves as “an Oracle shop” or “a Microsoft shop,” with every technology component within those organizations belonging to a single vendor’s solution suite. In contrast, today’s organizations increasingly adopt blended mixes of solutions that can better meet their flexibility, scalability, and budget requirements. According to a 451 Research survey from 2019, 65% of enterprises now have blended database environments that include both proprietary and open source software. When organizations now consider open source solutions versus their proprietary alternatives, more often than not they simply pursue the right tool for the job. As a result, you’ll now see a multitude of open source projects, proprietary technologies, and various frameworks deployed within most enterprises. 

While it was perhaps less true a decade ago, enterprises now have an overflow of reasons to be drawn to pure open source technologies – though cost efficiency tends to be among the most inviting initial factors. Open source also allows enterprises to fully test out solutions before investing major resources in them, while offering flexible customizations. Open source in the enterprise (long an open source laggard) has also earned increasingly favorable perceptions – to the degree that it’s now viewed as a boon that draws in both customers and the talent an enterprise needs to properly wield these solutions. At the same time, widespread cloud transformations are paving a glide path for easier open source adoption (especially with integrated open source solutions like our Instaclustr Managed Platform making it that much simpler to get started). 

However, many enterprises still subscribe to a set of cautions that leave them wary of open source solutions – and more likely to opt for proprietary alternatives. Caution and vetting is good, but hanging onto outdated misconceptions will unnecessarily hold businesses back (and/or cause unnecessary spend). Enterprises should be investigating the stability of any open source project they consider, checking whether it has the large and healthy community required to ensure long-term support. Enterprises also worry about confusing or changing open source licensing (currently a much-discussed topic), and need assurance that particular licenses fully allow them to build the services they have in mind. Enterprises must also make sure they’re getting the performance, security, and other enterprise-grade features on par with what they could expect from a competing (but far more expensive) commercially-driven proprietary vendor. If those necessities can’t be assured, it should be no surprise that proprietary providers, or even “open core” providers offering proprietary software built on open source projects, seem to be the more reliable options.

At Instaclustr, our philosophy as a provider is to offer exclusively open source solutions, in their upstream 100% open source form. At the same time, we select open source projects with robust communities and enterprise-ready pedigrees, and pair them with our own expert-level support to effectively deliver the assurances today’s enterprises require. We are a commercial company, but our focus is to provide unmatched services around fully open source data-layer technologies, rather than to try and carve out certain features and control them as closed source. That means ensuring that each of our solutions features reliable, secure, and performant operation at scale.

In the same spirit with which we never mix anything proprietary into the solutions we provide, we also tend to open source the solution add-ons and extra capabilities we do develop. For example, we’ve built enterprise-grade security features for Apache Cassandra that enable Kerberos authentication and LDAP authentication, and shared those features as open source plug-ins that are freely available on GitHub. In keeping with our open source philosophy, it’s also important to us to be worthwhile community players and pull our weight. In our community engagement, we find that we tend to be the ones voicing the needs of smaller users, which often have less resources with which to commit code and engage as influentially in their open source communities.

There’s also currently a lot of interesting talk and decision-making among enterprises when it comes to where they place their workloads. Certainly, there’s decisive movement toward the cloud, but on-prem isn’t going away anytime soon. For this reason, we’ve made the open source technologies we provide available on-prem (and offered on the major cloud providers). We’re also committed to multi-cloud support (which I sometimes hesitate to mention considering that many companies are working to get on the cloud in the first place), because of the tremendous portability advantages that fully-open-source technology delivers. The ability to take your code to another cloud as you prefer can pay major dividends, and it’s one that becomes far less possible when relying on proprietary software or particular cloud vendor offerings.

Of course, we can’t expect enterprises to adopt our pure-open-source approach if it doesn’t meet their practical needs: that belief in and loyalty to open source solutions has to be earned. There’s the related concept, particularly in the database world, of polyglot persistence, using different solutions to fit different needs. We’re certainly seeing more and more databases designed to address specific use cases and enable enterprises to make very intentional selections. We have made this apparent in Instaclustr’s offerings as well. For example, we provide a managed service around Cassandra and Elasticsearch. Both are projects that let you store data, but they have different approaches to doing so, including different functionality, benefits, and tradeoffs.

Those tradeoffs at the heart of the practical judgements that enterprises must make when vetting solutions, selecting the right tool for the right job and making sure it accelerates the business in both the short and the long term. At Instaclustr we believe our pure approach to delivering 100% open source solutions is based in practicality as well, and it’s our job to prove it every day with the quality of our offerings and our service.