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By Thomas Di Giacomo

Enterprises are now able to reduce costs and complexity, and accelerate product development cycles and infrastructure management, using open source software

An ideological movement founded in the last century is powering digital transformation for enterprises. Open source makes enterprise IT infrastructures more stable, secure, and cost-effective. 

Companies of every size now use dozens, if not hundreds, of software programmes to manage their business. Frequently, software is at the very heart of their own business and differentiation as well. Integrating and maintaining software, however, is an expensive, time-consuming, and unreasonably complex process. Open source technology offers a secure solution with faster fixes, reduced costs, fewer bugs and a controlled upgrade push. 

The beginning

Open source software has been around since the 1950s, although it was not then called ‘open source.’ At the time, that software was available because companies were running their business with hardware. Shortly after, companies closed the software and used it as intellectual property. 

By the 1990s and 2000s, developers around the world were creating a technology revolution by collaborating and creating open source software that was universally available free of charge. Finally, developers were able to collaborate outside their own companies with other like-minded people. Those developers were the disruptors of the tech industry, fuelled by a democratic belief in free software for all. They wanted everyone to have equal opportunity to create technology, not just large companies that can afford to invest in development. And despite resistance from powerhouses like

Microsoft and many others at the time, the movement proliferated.

During these years, companies like SUSE were founded to stabilise open source solutions for the enterprise. Companies could then develop and deploy open source software with the confidence that it is safe and secure. 

Since then, millions of developers have created hundreds of thousands of applications using open source technology. Open source software has developed at a pace that could not be achieved by any single large enterprise. In fact, today open source technology is used to run the internet, super computers, mobile devices and pretty much most of the IT applications and devices on earth.  

IT and product teams no longer need to spend time learning to use, run, and maintain software, with no assurance that it will work or be available when they need it. They can simply leverage open source solutions that have been tailor-made for the enterprise.

The worldwide open source communities continue to create innovation every day. Enterprises now enjoy a more stable business environment, save millions, and reduce development cycles by reusing available applications and establishing baseline standards. They no longer waste time and money re-inventing the same functionality over and over.

Enabling Digital Transformation

With most foundational software functions available in open source solutions, technology companies and enterprises have been able to focus efforts on product innovation and expanding the use of technology to solve more and more problems. This ‘digital transformation’ has made companies more agile, enabling faster growth, more business development, and swifter expansion into new markets.

In fact, in this age of digital transformation, many companies’ business models are predicated on their ability to implement open source technologies. It provides an ease and agility for integrating platforms and creating new products that is not otherwise possible.

Collaboration is the Open Source Superpower

Collaboration has been paramount for the success of open source and adoption by enterprises. To help ensure strategic alignment, the open source community created at least 100 foundations that drive the company-neutral agenda for open source projects, including the Linux FoundationCloud Native Computing Foundation, and the Apache Foundation for instance. Memberships within foundations can top 100,000 individual members and sponsor organisations range from start-ups to the Fortune 100 as well as research labs and governments. These foundations not only host the development of code, but enable consumers of the technology to collaborate as well. The increase of foundations in recent years has helped drive rapid innovation. And, to ensure that collaboration remains a hallmark of open source, each foundation requires that no single company drives a project and that every project has a feedback loop. 

Today, open source software is not used only for small needs; we have seen many epic collaborations. For example, telecom companies like AT&TSwisscom and Deutsche Telekom worked with the Linux Foundation to determine how open source innovation could be leveraged for their own needs and for the creation and deployment of networks. Open source has proven to be such a successful business and technical development model that we are seeing the methodology being adopted in many other industries including manufacturing, services and education.

More recently we have seen remarkable open source innovation applied to the development of autonomous trucks and passenger vehicles. Car makers are leveraging open source and High-Performance Computing (HPC) to collect data and manage the billions of mission critical interactions that occur each second to operate these vehicles safely. 

Open source solutions even help save lives. For example, Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik (ZAMG) in Austria captures data from thousands of static and mobile sensors located under water, on mountains, glaciers, and even at the centre of the earth to create incredibly accurate weather forecasts and climate models. Open source software makes it possible to manage and share this data with more than 8,000 organisations around the world. Their predictive models are giving governments, first responders, and energy and transportation providers precious advanced warning of severe weather.

Open Source Accelerates Disruption

The growth of the open source communities can be likened to the snowball effect; the more developers and companies that create open source solutions, the more benefit that open source provides. We are already seeing increased rates of innovation that are proving disruptive and accelerating the rate of change. 

SAP and its S/4HANA ERP is an excellent example of this snowball effect. 25 years ago, SAP’s ERP was built on the Microsoft operating system and did not use open source technologies. Now it’s all enterprise-grade Linux – open source solutions stabilised and secured the platform and it runs exclusively on open source solutions. And with the agility that open source offers, SAP is innovating faster and expanding the value of the platform faster than ever before.

Even Microsoft is a great open source citizen, and has not only fully embraced open source technology, but is one of the driving forces in the industry. 

Stay tuned to this space for part two of this article, when Dr Di Giacomo will review the impact of open source on business and digital transformation.  

President of engineering and innovation at SUSE