I don’t know about all of you, but to me, February 2018 feels like it may be a milestone etched into the lore of the tech industry. Of course, I have a special reason to feel that way — a company that I’m extremely lucky to be a co-founder of, just emerged from stealth unveiling its vision and an amazing team of ZEDi knights behind it. Still, I’m actually not talking about that – rather what I have in mind is an amazing pendulum of computing that seems to be doing a complete swing once every 20 years: from centralization, to decentralization and back again.
It is debatable whether the enterprise computing cycle began exactly in February 1978 and it is even more difficult to put a finger onto a singular event that launched it (aside from, maybe, yours truly being released into the world) but unmistakably it was a reaction to a previous era of centralized computing on the mainframes. The promise of PC and compute in every house and every business panned out beautifully and gave us monster companies like Dell, Microsoft and Apple. That was the good news. The bad news is that it also gave normalized vendor lock-in with proprietary software as a legitimate strategy. A whole generation of computer hackers found itself growing under the enormously long shadow cast by the enterprise computing vendors and as early as 1985 there were already prophets among us who somehow foresaw the creative destruction of the enterprise compute cycle looming on the horizon. Most of us back then, though, couldn’t even guess what that next computing cycle would be and how it would come about.
It was, of course, the cloud computing cycle and enabled by the ubiquity of the Internet that made centralized compute viable and, more importantly, highly profitable again. Yup — you’ve heard it right! Cloud computing was really a sort of a return back to the mainframe computing of yore — the only difference being that the single mainframe would now span continents. But I digress.
However powerful the force of the emerging Internet was, I’m convinced that it wouldn’t have given us the cloud computing alone. Another crucial ingredient had to be there and it was unveiled exactly 20 years ago (I told you February 2018 is a special month, didn’t I?).
It was in February 1998 that the very term Open Source was coined by Eric Raymond and that combined with the power of the Internet proved to be an unstoppable force giving raise not only to the cloud computing phenomenon but to most technology that surrounds us today.
Now, to tell you the truth: some of us in the Free Software Community were a bit surprised by his call to action. After all, by that point, the movement itself existed for much longer (after all, this is how we were fighting “the man” of the enterprise computing cycle!). Looking back, however, I must admit that Eric did have a good point. His crucial insight was that the Netscape open sourcing its crown jewel and Oracle quickly following with an announcement that their Database would now support Linux marked a watershed moment in enterprises’ attitude towards the movement. It was clearly a time when our community graduated from being perceived as a bunch of weird hobbyists (thank you Bill Gates!) at best or communist sympathizers at worst (thank you Steve Ballmer!) towards becoming a quintessential tool of innovation within enterprise IT organizations. Yes it was free of charge, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that it clearly allowed business models that couldn’t even be dreamt of before — and that changed everything.
20 years later I’m reminded of this part of our community rebranding. Shedding the old skin of Free Software allowed Open Source to bootstrap a radical new economy that gave us not only Red Hat (valued today at $23B+) but also Google, Facebook and to a large degree Amazon. The Internet connected everybody and everything into this gigantic bazaar that allowed these young business to reach untold number of customers at an unprecedented rate. We no longer needed cathedrals of huge proprietary vendors – the phenomenon of Open Source and the Internet allowed all vendors (big and small!) exponential acceleration of how quickly they could bring their products to market. And if Open Source’s role in creating that much value in such a short time isn’t awesome enough I don’t know what is.
But you know the best part? I think in 2018 we can do it all over again. Remember how Internet was a crucial ingredient 20 years ago? IoT and Blockchain are the same crucial ingredient of our day. And when I say IoT I don’t really mean these nascent attempts of just extending the reach of the public cloud – I mean a true autonomous behavior on the edge of the IoT – in other words a possibility of building really sophisticated cyber-physical systems. The kind of IoT that would enable 75 billion devices by 2025 making this economy not just the bazaar of yore but a true Big Market straight out of Valerian!
Of course, in order to truly realize that vision a whole lot of next generation software will have to be written to make the edge of the IoT as easy to manage and program for as the public cloud has become. Here at ZEDEDA we’re taking a crack at it, but we’re also convinced that given the enormity of the task – it will take a global Open Source village to tackle this challenge.
We truly hope that just like 20 years ago, we are about to witness the birth of a new, decentralized and highly peer-to-peer economy giving rise to the kinds of business models we haven’t even dreamt of before. Blockchain is in its infancy (just like Internet was 20 years ago) but just like the Internet it will allow a radical rethinking of value creation and value transfer. Even the value of open source itself can potentially be tied to that.
And you know what it means? I think we’re due for yet another re-branding soon. All I need to do is to retrieve Eric’s phone # from that Palm Pilot of mine — I’m sure he has a few good ideas of what this new phenomenon will end up being called.
But until he chimes in — lets keep calling it what we know and love today — Open Source. We are using a lot of it here at ZEDEDA. We hope to contribute even more. Which means if you like hacking on open source projects and changing the world of computing — you’d feel right at home here with ZEDEDA. Give us a buzz — lets talk!