The real value of open source in the cloud

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There’s a lot of wishful thinking in “,” a recent IBM-commissioned O’Reilly Media survey.

For example, there’s the finding that 70% of the more than 3,400 respondents “prefer cloud providers based on open source.” This sounds great until you ask, “What does it mean to be “based on open source?” After all, every single software product in existence arguably fits that description. And then there’s the finding that 79% turn to open source in the cloud because it somehow prevents vendor lock-in. (This is, , a bit ridiculous, for a variety of reasons.)

But buried in all that open source feel-goodism, there was one glaring truth: Cloud-specific technology offerings will help a developer ship their code faster, but open source technologies enable them to build a career that gives them independence from any particular cloud provider. In other words, open source is the ultimate career hedge.

Open source magical realism

But let’s get back to mythology. First, roughly 55% of respondents said that “Learning cloud computing skills specific to a single cloud provider limits my career growth,” despite the fact that… pretty much every single developer does exactly this. Why? Because most companies tend to focus on a single cloud provider. Yes, of course pretty much every company ends up using a smattering of different applications or infrastructure from a variety of cloud companies. But this is what I call “accidental multicloud,” not “intentional multicloud.”

Intentional multicloud does happen, but it’s rare. Why? Because, as former Citrix VP , “The problem is, and always will be, the lack of fungibility. Fungibility doesn’t drive revenue. The great promise of agnostic providers died as soon as the commodity concepts went out of the window. Smart folks use best of… breed. The idea of real multicloud is lunacy.”

When companies hire, they have a cloud in mind. Knowing how to use the native services for Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud or AWS or Alibaba pays.

AWS

Customers, whether tapping proprietary or open source software, want it to “just work.” But for developers, it’s different, and this is where the survey shines.

Freedom to be me… anywhere

Developers are hugely influential in enterprise purchasing decisions, but generally don’t control them. What they can control, however, is career growth, and for that, developers laud open source.

As important as it may be for developers to know the intricacies of a particular cloud vendor, many open source technologies (Kubernetes, Linux, PostgreSQL, etc.) give developers skills that transfer between the clouds. Small wonder, then, that developers see open source as critical to improving their career prospects:

O’Reilly Media

It’s not that developers don’t derive value from knowing, say, Google BigQuery. Rather, there is more option value in knowing TensorFlow or some other open source technology that can be used in a wider variety of corporate settings. When nearly 79% of the O’Reilly survey respondents say that open source software offers more “technology flexibility” than proprietary software, this is what they’re indicating.

So, while some indulge in that (in the enterprise, every technology choice breeds lock-in), where open source really helps isn’t at the corporate level but at the personal level. That is, the more open source I know, the more valuable I will be wherever I choose to work.

Not surprisingly, developers understand this. In the O’Reilly survey, when developers were asked to quantify the perceived importance of Kubernetes to their career, 52% said it’s “extremely important” or “very important.” Add in “somewhat important,” and we’re up to 80% of respondents.

Clearly, developers continue to be driven to build their careers around open source technologies, and maintain independence through open source, even as they strive to increase their value by investing in knowledge of cloud-specific technologies.

Read more about open source:

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