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Open source…yes! But, which open source?

Sachin Dabir | Founder & Director, Ashnik
USA, 22 May 2018

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Well, many of you would wonder why this question is being raised again. Considering that open source has been around for over 25 years and has been an integral part of your enterprise software needs. You might even be thinking, ‘does it matter if it is open source or not, since everything I am consuming is a cloud-based service’.

The common thread in these arguments is that enterprises have started taking open source software for granted and it has become an essential ingredient for IT and hence the business growth. (I am definitely very happy about it, after all, I have been actively involved in helping enterprises adopt open source software since 2001 – almost 17 years now). Even the cloud infrastructure that powers software-as-a-service now uses open source software. Such is the impact of open source software, plus there are anyway many mounting reasons for the extensive usage of open source software.

Today, almost every new category of software is offered through open source and technology companies are making their software available under open source license. Most interesting part is that there are multiple choices through open source products in the same category itself. Heed the following examples:

RDBMS: PostgreSQL, MariaDB, MySQL

Web server: Apache, Nginx

ETL: Pentaho, TalenD

Container: Docker, OpenShift

Hadoop: Hortonworks, Cloudera

This list will go on.

The point is that when open source software are such an integral part of IT, enterprises are getting confused with license terms of the commercial open source products. When enterprises buy open source software they assume certain values of open source software to be available with the product. Sadly, that is not the case with many products that are marketed as open source software. Enterprises have to be careful in making their decisions and understand the distinction between open source licensed piece of software and commercially licensed add-on features. In this article, I am just highlighting broad aspects to be considered while making such decisions and would leave it to you to put names of the open source software in various categories.

When technology companies offer or market their software as “open source” there are largely two categories:

1. The software is developed by the community and a commercial company emerges to provide enterprise-grade stability in other aspects. The key aspect of this category is that community is not working for a particular company. The community is spread across, it is very strong in terms of developers – numbers and quality. The commercial company works very closely with the community. At times, one commercial company takes a lead in helping develop a robust community and contributes towards the development work in a big way.

In such a model, it is possible that there might be more than one commercial company offering the same open source products with some value-add from its side. This works really well as ultimately the product development and feature addition is faster and gets benefitted due to wider customer experiences. In this model, customers really enjoy the best of both worlds as long as commercial companies stick to one core community stream and enriches it constantly.

2. In the second category, a commercial company develops the software through its internal team and makes a software available under one of the open source licenses. This means that one single company (with focus on commercial success) has control over the product, roadmap and There are many products that fall into this category. The key for the success of such products depends on: How that company develops community outside the company developer network? How much open does it make the software? How much does it contribute to open source software and how much does it offer through commercial license? We have seen many successes and failures in this category. One of the key reasons for failure (commercial as well community wise) under this category is that very often the commercial company is using open source software just as a marketing tool. It is not embracing open source principles, it is not interested in developing community, but its core interest is to tap into high mindshare of enterprises for open source software and ride the wave.

Few more considerations while choosing open source software licenses:

  • Which features are made available through open source license?
  • Which features are made available through commercial license?
  • What are the terms of the commercial license?
  • What are the dependencies on a commercially licensed portion of the software
  • How big is the community and how is the commercial vendor engaging with the community?

Enterprises should go through these considerations because there are a lot of choices. It is important that enterprises don’t approach buying open source software in the same way they are used to purchase yesteryear’s proprietary software. Procurement of open source software is relatively much easier but with so many choices available, a habit of making the right choice needs to be developed. It is a good problem to have, isn’t it?


  • Sachin is veteran in IT industry and brings over 25 years of experience in setting up new businesses, leading high performance sales teams and executing growth strategies. He is passionate about open source and is an acknowledged leader in open source in Asia. As a founder of Ashnik he is leading the growth initiatives and taking Ashnik global. His stints in Asia, UK and USA enables him to bring unique perspective to entrepreneurship and life. His interests in writing, reading and mentoring makes him an excellent networker. Currently he is learning to be a patient father to teenage sons and striving to be a good husband.

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