Why open-source projects are essential for large businesses

Jan 28, 2022

Posted by
  • Avi Press
    Avi Press

The famous line from Marc Andreesen that “software is eating the world” has become part and parcel of modern technology’s canon and it continues to act as a rallying cry for the industry as a whole.

But there is another phenomenon riding on those coattails that doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. If you look closely, you’ll see that open-source software specifically is eating more and more of the overall software space – and is set to transform how large companies think about technology.

This is a guest post by Avi Press, founder and CEO at Scarf - a platform dedicated to helping open-source maintainers connect with their users and deliver better software.

Where do we see open-source software playing a role?

Research from Red Hat shows that 90% of enterprise IT leaders are using open-source tools to maintain and grow their organizations. This is occurring across a vast scope of different uses, but some of the more common applications include:

  • Software Supply Chain Management - npm, for instance, is an open-source package manager and registry for JavaScript that is used almost everywhere as part of core development toolkits. It has become a vital component of the enterprise IT space for modern web applications.

  • Operating Systems - For the majority of computing workloads in the enterprise space, Linux is the operating system of choice. From web servers, containers, remote development environments, and beyond, Linux has become one of the most important open-source projects to the modern enterprise.

  • Databases - Many large companies use open-source database solutions such as PostgreSQL, MySQL or Clickhouse rather than choosing a proprietary solution. This gives them greater compatibility and flexibility as they integrate it into the rest of their technology stack.

  • Analytics - Open-source analytics solutions have also become very popular, giving enterprises full control over their data handling, hosting, and the like. Solutions like PostHog, which also includes an open source session recording feature, have been revolutionary in giving companies the peace of mind to know that their data is never leaving the confines of the company itself.

These examples represent just a portion of the ways that open-source software continues to grow its influence within large organizations. The trend is accelerating as the open-source methodology spreads to just about every other part of the tech stack from low-level firmware to cloud SaaS applications.

Why has open-source software been gaining momentum?

Convincing enterprise clients to consider open-source solutions is often not an easy proposition, and so it might seem counterintuitive to see so much movement in this direction. Some of the reasons that we can attribute to this include:

  • Cost - Companies are always looking to reduce costs, and if open-source solutions can provide the requisite value, then it makes for a compelling option when compared to high-priced proprietary software. Commercial open-source support has also improved significantly, often rivaling what one might expect from proprietary software providers.

  • Community - Perhaps the most significant factor when it comes to open-source software is the community that gets built around these tools. A diverse set of individuals and companies leveraging, modifying, and redistributing a piece of software allows for vibrant knowledge sharing and innovation.

  • Security - Having more eyes on any given piece of code means that vulnerabilities are spotted and resolved faster. This is the precise rationale behind the common warning in software engineering to “never roll your own cryptography”. Building secure software is hard; to solve the very hardest problems, open collaboration has proven most effective. In this vein, open-source also allows enterprises to take more control over their own security by enabling easy auditing and submitting fixes that can be shared with the community.

This is not to say that open-source software doesn’t come with its own challenges for large businesses. When you are relying on the good nature of maintainers, incentives between stakeholders can be misaligned and things can go wrong.

A recent example of this can be seen where multiple popular npm packages were sabotaged by the developer who had previously expressed frustration with providing free support to large companies relying on his code. This story highlights that adopting any piece of technology involves an amount of risk, and businesses of all sizes must meticulously manage their risks to be successful.

In order to ensure the long-term success of open-source by large businesses, we need tighter collaboration between open-source developers and the commercial end-users who rely on their software.

At Scarf, we’ve been hard at work trying to help open-source developers build these connections and nurture them so that all parties can benefit. Scarf Gateway does this by delivering better observability into the distribution of open-source components, uncovering key information for creators like which companies are using the software and how they are relying on it.

If we can facilitate better communication and collaboration between the open-source community and the wide range of enterprise end-users, we can make the most of the immense potential that is there for the taking.

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