Open Source – Not a One-Way Street
Sometimes it is not the obvious that makes a difference. Sometimes it is not the price that determines value. Sometimes it is just a drop that drives a wave.
Open source is perfect proof of that. Started as the free software movement by individuals to oppose domination by software giants, it has now become a set of far-reaching communities that live and breathe from the kind-of ‘network effect’, the skills and the collective wisdom of crowds. Today, large companies also contribute to and benefit from open source software to help customers address challenges in areas such as Internet of Things, big data, and cloud.
The topic crosses my desk more and more often, and I am becoming increasingly passionate about it. But while open source indeed offers many opportunities for our customers and SAP, I also see some challenges: Managing open source in an enterprise environment can get very complex as you scale since large enterprises are complex by nature.
So one key question is how to combine both worlds, commercial enterprise applications and open source software, with all their opportunities and challenges.
Simply stated, while open source eases the development effort for teams, it often introduces additional operational complexity for enterprises. Yes, customers can avoid vendor lock-in, experience a high degree of flexibility in tweaking source code to suit their needs, and rely on the community to deliver new features in short turnaround time.
However, adoption is often deterred by the lack of enterprise readiness features, such as audit logging and monitoring, the complexity of engaging third party vendors for operations in enterprise environments as well as maintenance. In addition, legal questions regarding Intellectual Property rights and licensing are often a barrier. That’s the basic dilemma of open source.
SAP’s stake in open source is not a one-way street. We have been a supporter of open source software for many years, and we follow a systematic, strategic approach towards its use, adoption and regarding our contributions. We want to allow customers to reuse their open source skills in an SAP environment, and our developers to actively support open source foundations and initiatives, including Apache, Eclipse, Node.js, OpenStack, and Cloud Foundry.
The two-way approach
We contribute to open source, and we use open source considering specific requirements to ensure consistent and state-of-the-art products and services for our customers.
Our engagement with Cloud Foundry, for example, follows this two-way approach. At the end of September 2016, SAP opened up a Cloud Foundry Dojo for one of the Cloud Foundry projects which is led by SAP. We have been leading this open source project since 2015, where our developers together with developers from SUSE were contributing to the public source code repository full time.
The collaboration with Cloud Foundry includes further projects, and it also plays a crucial role for our move to the cloud, and our open and scalable Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offering specifically. As announced at SAPPHIRE this year, Cloud Foundry-based services are being embedded in SAP HANA Cloud Platform (HCP) which makes creating innovative Cloud Foundry-based applications that run on SAP HANA Cloud Platform easy for the developer ecosystem.
Would you have expected that SAP also offers pure open source software? Latest example for delivering open source software to the developer community is BUILD. It is a collaborative design tool including a comprehensive set of tools that makes the application development process easy and enables users to design interactive app prototypes. Users can upload sketches of their ideas and jointly work on prototypes before they finally import the UI5 code into SAP WebIDE. Further open source software projects led by SAP include, for example, OpenUI5, a framework for building user interfaces based on HTML5, and Olingo, a library for OData.
Overcoming the challenges of open source in the enterprise world
Also in September, SAP announced the acquisition of Altiscale, provider of a high-performance and scalable Big Data-as-a-Service (BDaaS) solution. Altiscale’s offering includes fully managed Apache Hadoop and Apache Spark based Big Data services that aim to significantly reduce operational complexity for customers. Being a recognized leader in the big data domain, Altiscale has made significant strides to scale processing power and efficiently utilize hardware resources in production settings.
Combining the Altiscale offering with SAP HANA Vora will pave the road to a holistic big data stack that will help enterprises turn raw data into immediate business value, and consequently differentiate from their competitors in the digital economy through data and technology based innovation. Altiscale and SAP share the joint vision of overcoming the challenges of open source adoption by combining the continuity and standards of proprietary enterprise applications with the flexibility and openness of open source systems.
Back to “sometimes it is not the obvious that makes a difference”: Complexity is our biggest challenge, and the combination of enterprise applications and open source can be both: a driver of complexity and a big simplifier for businesses if applied smartly. I am very much in favor of the latter and see big potential in combining the good of both worlds as well as overcoming the challenges both worlds are facing. Open Source does not equal free software; it is rather focused on community building and participation in communities by contributions. What all developers and engineers have in common is their – is our – passion for coding. So let’s use this passion as our chance to drive and ride the innovation wave in both worlds together.
Very glad to see the path that SAP has chosen towards full open source commitment. Smart move and very successful so far.
I might be biased a bit as a SUSE employee, but I couldn't agree more.