Steering Through Shocks, Chasing Chances: Why Open Source Technology Makes More Sense Than Ever

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Steering Through Shocks, Chasing Chances: Why Open Source Technology Makes More Sense Than Ever

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If the last 15 years have taught us anything, it’s to expect the unpredictable. Few people saw the 2009 financial crisis coming, nobody saw COVID coming. Each episode tells us that what makes sense today, may not tomorrow. To paraphrase an often uttered saying of leaders, no plan survives contact with time.

These events have far reaching consequences - on the lives of individuals, on societies, and on business. I want to talk about how businesses can help protect themselves when shocks occur. Or, more specifically, how their choice of technology enhances their resilience.

The case for the defence

Shocks are, by definition, unknown. So if you can’t see what’s coming, how can you mitigate its consequences? Speed is often the answer; being able to switch away from the risk before it engulfs you. And choice is how you create that speed.

Any well run business will already take this approach with its finances. Reserves are often held in a mix of assets and currencies to lessen the impact of any one suddenly losing value, and enough liquidity held to be able to diversify to safer investments. The same with countries and their energy supplies.

Compare this with technology. When an enterprise business is ‘all-in’ with one vendor, it is subject to their fortunes. Should something go wrong with the vendor, or the relationship sour, the enterprise has nowhere else to go. Not immediately, anyway. And history tells us it can happen: 2e2, Nirvanix, Fusion were once reputable cloud computing and storage firms that unfortunately failed.

A sharp price hike, a security breach, or the arrival of an innovative new player in the market all create the urgency to move. But the more reliant you are on the incumbent vendor, the harder that becomes.

When applications and workloads can move freely between each environment, it allows you to scale up or dial back use as needed. This is why a hybrid approach to infrastructure—mixing on-premises with cloud, mixing private cloud with public, and mixing different public clouds—has become the sensible strategy.

And why hybrid infrastructure is complemented by open source software. It is not simply that by owning the underlying data you are able to move the application to a different infrastructure, or move the data into a new application entirely. Open source also enables agility because it is community led; and individual contributors often react faster to a crisis than large companies with strict hierarchies and complex decision-making structures.

Front foot innovation

Thankfully, shocks are relatively rare. Businesses spend more time thinking about offence, and plan accordingly. The same combination of open source software and hybrid infrastructure is the perfect play for front foot innovation.

Again, it’s the community of open source that brings value. The logic is simple: in a room of 100 people, would you back one person to always have the best idea, or the collective might of the other 99? Innovation never happens in one place. Open source gives you access to everywhere and everyone—more minds to create, more eyes to check, more people offering support.

Innovation is not about buying the latest stuff. As our CEO recently explained, that is not practical or sustainable. Innovation is about modernisation; taking what you have, and improving it. If you’re beholden to the vendor’s appetite and capability to innovate, you will always be on the back foot. Open source provides the control and interoperability that enables a continuous ‘build it better’ mindset, and with that a more proactive approach to chasing new commercial opportunities.

Private tech knows this. Google has Kubernetes and Flutter; Microsoft has Azure Docs and VS Code; AWS and Apple both use Linux. There’s no better example of the power of open source for innovation than Bitcoin, which has rocketed to a c.$800bn market cap, based on the ingenuity and commitment of the community that built it and maintains it.

Ironing out complexity

The more of something you have, the more complex it can become. An on-premises environment, running just a handful of software programs, is neat and easy to manage. A hybrid infrastructure with open source software adoption at scale sets out to be elaborate.

Without the right orchestration, things can become confusing and costly.

We know this intuitively. Libraries orchestrate information; cars orchestrate mechanical, navigation and entertainment systems; your phone orchestrates your life. Orchestration removes limits, enabling choice and scale.

So it is with enterprise technology. An orchestration platform, such as Red Hat OpenShift, irons out complexity by ensuring software (and individual components of software) can interact regardless of where they are running. This is crucial to effective application modernisation, enabling a business to refactor or completely rebuild software with containers and microservices. An automation layer on top ensures the whole thing drives smoothly.

Culture - the final jigsaw piece

Orchestration is not simply a matter of organising and automating products and policies. Technology is ultimately worthless without the backing of the people. People adopt technology, and people make it productive.

So how do you orchestrate people? And what do I mean by that anyway? The answer to both questions is culture. Or, more specifically, an open culture.

There is no point enabling choice of technology if you do not also enable people’s ability to choose. This is what we mean by having an open culture, where trust in colleagues is the default and ideas are judged on their merits, not by the seniority of whoever suggested them. Where silent talent and their ideas are amplified. Where diversity of knowledge and experience is the logical outcome.

If you want the control and agility of hybrid infrastructure and open source software, you must also embrace an open culture.

History in the making 

This is the strategy most enterprises are turning to. A new survey by Red Hat of almost 1,300 IT leaders worldwide illustrates how these arguments are playing out in real life: 95% said enterprise open source is important to their organisation’s overall infrastructure, with greater flexibility (79%), access to innovation (77%) and support for a hybrid cloud strategy (77%) among the top reasons.

This peer analysis makes a compelling case for open source. A business that is well equipped to ride out the shocks and seize the opportunities will be more successful than one that is rigid. Not adopting open source and hybrid infrastructure is to believe that we are at the end of history; that we have seen all the twists and turns that the world and markets will ever deliver. Look around—the picture tells a very, very different story.

Hans Roth is SVP and General Manager EMEA at Red Hat.

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Steering Through Shocks, Chasing Chances: Why Open Source Technology Makes More Sense Than Ever

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