Open For Business

What has never been doubted, has never been proven.

–Denis Diderot

Let’s be honest, no one ‘really’ knows exactly how ‘Open Source’ and ‘Business Model’ should fit together. There is a broad spectrum of ‘Open Source’ approaches, from the ‘Purists‘ to the ‘Open Core‘ to the pragmatic ‘Flip Floppers‘. The differences are subtle nuances to anyone not steeped in the culture and trying to explain them will just confuse most people not familiar with the lore. There is my partner Luke, who has as many questions as answers. Then there a people with a lot of answers, but of course, they are all different.

Analysts are talking about the ‘billion dollar opportunity‘, but the brightest example of Open Source business success, that everyone references, garners harsh comments like this one. Does there have to be a clash along this boundary? Sure, Redhat has essentially adopted a traditional licensing model, but if you don’t understand the benefit of the role they play in the larger OSS ecosystem then you aren’t really paying attention. Having strong ideals is one thing, paying for groceries, mortgages, and braces is another.

One of the most influential programmers of a generation is trying to figure out how to make a living. You think capistrano would be abandoned if Jamis got a nickel everytime someone ran cap deploy? These were innovative projects that added a ton of value to an ecosystem and captured little, if any. There are plenty of millionaires who sold total crap and cashed out.

Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

–Oscar Wilde

Is there some way to balance Open Source ideals with opportunity? I sure hope so, but I’m not entirely sure how the rest of the story goes. On more than one occasion, I’ve been on a call with someone from an ‘enterprise’ talking about how they are replacing Opsware or Bladelogic installations that were minimum high 6 figure checks to implement, wanting Reductive Labs services, and balking at spending ~$20K with us as too expensive. Someone convinced somebody that the promise of automation was worth X dollars, possibly didn’t deliver it, and now a solution is not worth X/50? What gives?

The problem in most cases is the technology has been adopted at the front line by admins who want to get more done, know there is a better way, but don’t necessarily have budget to spend. Their managers don’t know much about what they do, view all of IT as a cost center anyway and now they want more money… for what? Reductive Labs best customers are organization with a semi-technical manager, who trusts her people, wants them to succeed and believes IT should be a differentiator. Organizations like this have funded Puppet’s development.

The push back is often from companies with 10K servers and a 500 headcount meatcloud, all with root on every box. Some progressive admin has got Puppet up and solving small problems, but knows releasing it into the organization at large without some training and process improvements is like distributing chainsaws to every kindergartener on the playground at recess. No child left behind… So instead they fumble through implementing a solution, don’t really change the process, and then call us when Puppet brings down a service by doing exactly what their code told Puppet to do. (Ok, so I’ll admit, this doesn’t happen every time, but it has happened.)

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance — it is the illusion of knowledge.

–Daniel J Boorstin

John M Willis says he talks to the ‘enterprise’ all the time, and most people haven’t even heard of Puppet yet. I’m sorry, try to catch the next clue train. Managing 10K machines with a 500 headed meathydra rooting boxes is costing a lot more money than it needs to.  We would love to solve that problem for you. If you aren’t looking for a solution to this, you probably aren’t solving other problems either. I understand that keeping up with every little technology is hard, but at some point you just have to concede that you aren’t in the race anymore. Hopefully, you have at least heard of Linux…

The problem is most the time the conversation stops at the admin technical level. We don’t have a small army in ties who can take executives for metaphorical (or not…) martinis at strip clubs. Or a marketing budget to take out full page ads in CIO magazine. In my world view that should be a good thing. We are technologist at heart, who want to build solid solutions and to deliver value at the point of attack. Unfortunately, we don’t have the sales process to exploit inefficiencies in the marketplace with asymmetric understanding and access to information (or an economic system that rewards value necessarily).

Somewhere between the ‘enterprise’ who doesn’t know what to make of open source software and the people who love open source like sharks like seals, is there an opportunity to capture value? Scylla and Charibdis?

I like to think that more and more people will realize that the price of Open Source is expertise, that they have to pay their team for months of learning we could have provided in a week, that a ‘support’ contract is a reciprocal agreement, and the alternatives are much more expensive when comparing the total cost of ownership. If you pay us half of what a commercial solution would cost, we can automate your infrastructure, train your team and support the solution. In fact, we’ll make sure Puppet spreads jam on your toast in the morning. (If you pay us anywhere near the same amount, we’ll automate baking the bread too.)

Markets are constantly in a state of uncertainty and flux, and money is made by discounting the obvious and betting on the unexpected.

–George Soros


5 responses to “Open For Business

  • jtimberman

    10k systems and 500 #meatcloud reminds me of my time at IBM. We had a 150 #meatcloud sysadmin team supporting ~4k systems, with almost no automation. Some things were automated, but it was almost entirely one-off by department. The only Tivoli to be seen was monitoring, and eventually that was replaced by BMC.

    This was apparently normal – very little automation, lots of expensive software and consultants. Most of the customers our organization supported were Fortune 500, and we heard similar stories about their own internal operations.

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