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Why pure open-source takes another enterprise-sized step forward in 2021

open source
(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Imilian)

The trending rise in enterprise open-source adoption will accelerate even more throughout 2021. Many more organizations swiftly turned to open-source technologies as the pandemic escalated – for a variety of reasons – and aren’t turning back. For most, the choice is simple. Robust open-source technologies with active communities now simply out-compete proprietary alternatives (including open core) when it comes to scalability, performance and, of course, cost.

But I really believe the coming year will bring even more widespread changes to the ways that enterprises explore and vet their open-source opportunities. To that end, here’s a look at how enterprise practices will shift as 2021 unfolds.

1. “Open core” solutions will cede ground to 100 percent open-source technologies at an increasing pace

Pure open-source technologies – untethered to proprietary distributions or feature sets – will press their inherent advantages as they compete with “open core” offerings. Commercial open core providers take open-source technologies and tack on features of their own in an attempt to justify the proprietary constraints they place on their products. Enterprises that choose to use open core solutions often discover too late that their code isn’t all that easily portable or even owned by them, and end up at the mercy of vendor and technical lock-in.

While many open core solutions become popular due to the features they offer, 100 percent open-source technologies still hold a natural advantage on this front. As open-source projects operate and evolve, they build out new features that their communities demand. Each time an open-source project introduces capabilities that overlap with and eclipse open core features, open core solutions must cede that ground. Over time, open-source captures more and more of the features landscape and leaves open core offerings with little breathing room to compete – and especially so considering their position as far costlier options. Increasing enterprise adoption of open-source technologies only catalyzes this process, as these larger organizations add their own strength to open-source communities and spur the pace of new feature development.

2. Enterprises are maturing when it comes to (accurately) assessing open-source solutions

As discussed, enterprises can face dire consequences if they make long-term commitments to ill-fitting open core solutions. Fortunately, as more enterprises explore their open-source options, the base of industry knowledge and the maturity with which organizations approach these solutions is increasing rapidly. For example, enterprises will become much savvier in recognizing open core offerings and their associated lock-in risks for what they are.

Relatedly, enterprises are improving their abilities to vet the strength and reliability of open-source communities. While projects backed by robust and vibrant communities can be trusted to endure and adhere to open-source principles, some less established communities are more prone to the influences of their larger commercial members. If that influence is capable of steering a project away from the best interests of the enterprise vetting the solution, it’s likely best to steer clear. In contrast, open-source software with well-regarded non-profit foundations in charge of their governance – the Apache Foundation is a great example – are certainly trustworthy.

3. Enterprises are also becoming savvier about open-source licensing

A cautionary example: Elastic recently announced that it would shift previously Apache 2.0-licensed Elasticsearch and Kibana source code to its own license and a Server Side Public License (SSPL). As a result, some Elasticsearch and Kibana components in future versions won’t be under a reliable OSI-approved open-source license. Fortunately, in this case the Open Distro for Elasticsearch is available, preserving fully open-source Elasticsearch as an option for enterprises. At the same time, enterprises witnessing this example are getting a quick education in the vigilance necessary to maintain open-source freedoms when vetting and relying upon open-source licenses.

Critically, enterprises will also increase their familiarity with (and understanding of) open-source licensing terms. In order to be favorable, these terms must allow enterprises to use software for any purpose as they see fit. Enterprises will also be attentive to any licensing changes made by commercial interests offering open-source software.

4. Security is rightfully earning enterprises’ respect (and trust)

Among other inviting factors, the security reliability that open-source technologies with strong communities now offers will win over new enterprise adopters. The power of open-source communities can focus the collective capabilities of countless talented developers on the work of discovering and remediating security issues. These resources easily surpass those available to internal teams tasked with safeguarding proprietary software. As more enterprises select open-source to realize these security benefits, their own talent adds to open-source communities, driving a virtuous cycle that makes open-source software that much more compelling.

5. The current increase in enterprise open-source adoption will far outlast the pandemic

The economic impact of the pandemic has played a role in increasing enterprise open-source adoption, squeezing IT budgets and driving organizations to seek out greater efficiencies. That said, the pandemic has simply accelerated changes that were long due. Just as widespread work-from-home policies, on-demand food delivery, and movie debuts streamed into our homes were always inevitable advances, so too have the superior features of open-source put its eventual rise among enterprises beyond question. The pandemic will thankfully end, but open-source adoption and the many advantages driving it will endure.

In 2021, expect the innovation, quality, and cost-efficiency of open-source software to continue to set these technologies apart, and earn attention from enterprises that now understand these options and their benefits better than ever.

Anil Inamdar is the VP & Head of Data Solutions, Instaclustr