Microsoft has made great strides with open source. Codeplex has been around for a long time, and the Microsoft github repository is growing. They’ve made real investments in Linux integration. The Docker integration was a shocker at first (the Kubernetes and Openstack work even more so) but those already seem like par for the course. Most interestingly this year, the Revolution Analytics acquisition both raised eyebrows and gained approving nods.
Microsoft has demonstrated that they will open source SDKs, APIs, and tools that enhance the Microsoft closed source ecosystem. They’ve also demonstrated that they will acquire open source technology companies in areas where they’re finding it difficult to compete. They’ve demonstrated that they will actively contribute to existing open source efforts. Still, I argue that Microsoft has some way to go before I’d call them fully committed to open source.
Approximately two results to go…
What Microsoft hasn’t done is open source strategic intellectual property that was developed within the company. For established IT firms, that process is a journey, and for Microsoft the sensible first step is Azure Pack.
People don’t hate closed source systems as long as they’re reliable, well-supported, actively developed by the vendor and there is a reasonable exit strategy. If you make the wrong bet on a hypervisor – even enterprise-wide - the pain lasts just about as long as the equipment on which you have the hypervisor installed. It would be painful if the vendor goes in a strategic direction incompatible with your own, but your investment in the platform would depreciate gradually, not disappear.
Cloud is an entirely different beast, with a heavy development, automation, and customization investment, the lifecycle of which far exceeds that of any hardware investment. When you change out a hypervisor cluster, you move the workloads. When you change out a cloud system, you change all sorts of automation at all levels of the compute stack. You change out billing systems, and all of the other moving parts that distinguish a cloud from a virtualized environment.
Customers investing thousands of hours in automation and customization efforts want to be assured that the platform they’re working on is going to be actively developed in a manner that jives with their strategy for a very long time. A customer’s cloud system will be the central gear in their IT operations for easily the next decade. This is the primary appeal of Openstack for customers. That exit strategy is that the community can always fork the code if the primary advocates of the project go off the rails.
Microsoft could directly monetize Azure Pack
Right now, Microsoft gives Azure Pack away for free (as in “free beer”, not “free speech”). Free stuff gets relatively little love from sales organizations which are motivated to sell things that gains commission. Any ROI for Microsoft comes from Azure Pack dragging revenue to System Center, Windows and SQL Servers, and public Azure.
Open sourcing Azure Pack would allow Microsoft to continue to give the software away, but opens a wide array of options for monetizing it. The model I would choose is charging for support, like Red Hat. This has three effects:
- Sales organization commitment to selling Azure Pack on its own merits
- Paid support gets them more robust data around deployment models
- Paid support gets them more robust data on problematic areas of Azure Pack
Of course there’s nothing stopping them from charging for support today, but that would have an unacceptable chilling effect on its place in the market.
Increased pace of development
Open sourcing would gain Microsoft access to a community of users/developers. The sole developer of Azure Pack is Microsoft itself and has tied Azure Pack release pace to Windows. The latter has improved, but we’re still looking at a 3 year release cycle between 2012 R2 and Windows Server 10. Open Sourcing Azure Pack doesn’t meant that they need to accelerate that, but it does mean that user/developers don’t need to wait 3 years to see improvements that are critical to their business.
Better responsiveness to its customers
Right now, Microsoft Azure is the primary driver of new features in Azure Pack. While it helps the larger community and has resulted in a very cool product, not every organization has the same priorities, scale or strategic direction as public Azure. Community contribution to the core of Azure Pack would eventually make it more responsive to a much wider array of customers, and at a variety of scale points.
Increased cooperation from third party vendors
Cloud has a lot of moving parts, so vendors are challenged to provide everything – a multi-vendor approach is very appealing. When vendors – the HPs, EMCs, IBMs of the world – decide where to invest, they apply much of the same calculus as end users when deciding which platforms in which to proactively invest. Unlike crowds of people, crowds of open source contributors reduce the turbulence of the crowd. The seeming mayhem actually assures the individuals in the crowd they always have a seat at the table, and if they end up not liking their seat, they can go sit at another table without completely abandoning their investment. For vendors, this is the appeal of Openstack.
Increased partnership with and enthusiasm from service providers
A couple months ago, I spoke to a forum of service providers about EMC’s efforts in the Microsoft Cloud space. Some of them were Microsoft Cloud OS Network partners. The tone of the discussion was markedly different than the discussion around open source efforts. For most of them, the decision to enter the business was driven by the acknowledgement Microsoft could drive a fair amount of business their way if they offered a cloud solution based on Azure Pack. That’s a far cry from deciding to establish a cloud platform for its technical capabilities, or because they have a strategic partnership. A couple people from organizations said they chose not to enter COSN as they viewed Microsoft as a competitor. Open sourcing the core of Azure Pack would allow these SPs to gain the assurance and control they need to make sure the needs of their business are met.
I would be shocked if this were not an active topic at some level within Microsoft, and would not be at all surprised to see it announced at Ignite next month or the Build conference next week.