Open Source First – A Journey and a Destination

Only three years ago Sixtree was a company focused on Enterprise Platforms from the big vendors in town. Today our company is an unashamedly proud, card-carrying open source evangelist. As is often the case, the journey has been as interesting as the destination.

While the hipsters were sipping short macchiatos and breathing life into Apache Foundations, I was wrestling heavyweight stacks from the traditional enterprise vendors. Whispers of open source platform alternatives would bounce around, but I was indoctrinated with the value of ‘vertically integrated’ stacks and had my share of scepticism. While the OSS tools were focused and light, there was a hint of immaturity that I thought justified some market reluctance.

Back in 2011 our customers were primarily at the top end of town. Companies with the budget, historical precedent and a perception of risk which inclined them to focus on software from the big guys. Something however did not feel right. We saw firsthand the investments our customers were making in traditional proprietary stacks and sensed there was a confluence of forces suggesting change was in the wind.

  • The open source platforms were maturing quickly, with POCs demonstrating capabilities as strong or leading the larger stacks.
  • An architectural shift towards cloud, APIs, microservices and the Composable Enterprise were favouring nimble OSS players and leaving monoliths behind.
  • Commercial support for leading open source platforms was becoming more widespread.
  • Customers were revising their risk profiles, with writing cheques to the big vendors no longer seen as a safe way to keep your job.
  • Operations were looking to pull back some of their infrastructure assets which had been sold through the outsourcing boom.

Validation from the Market

2013 was a year of surprising conversations and validation for us. The benefits of open source platforms were not only understood by our customers and prospects but were in fact clearly pinned on their enterprise roadmaps. The explosion of Mule ESB in Australia validated what seemed a brave decision at the time, and our affection for Red Hat’s JBoss A-MQ and BRMS (Drools) delivered a bedrock for some fun event-driven solutions.  That ‘light bulb moment’ our customers were having with Elasticsearch was occurring around the world, with the open source platform having over 500,000 downloads per month. This validation in 2013 led to our open source transition in 2014.

This blog entry was nudged by the publication of the 2014 Open Source Survey, sponsored by Black Duck and North Bridge Venture Partners. I find the trending sentiment to open source fascinating, and it’s reassuring to see validation in our beliefs resonate with a broadening funnel of industry opinion. As a consultancy who previously focused on traditional proprietary technologies, I thought it might be interesting to shed some insights into how open source is not only underpinning our customer solutions, but is helping shape the culture within Sixtree.

Open Source – For Our Customers

Consideration Commentary
Quality No vendor can compete with the number of eyes scrutinising and contributing to today’s open source projects. The top motivation for embracing open source today is consistently listed as ‘quality’. The survey has seen this factor moving  from #5 in 2011 to #1 in 2013 - and the gap has broadened in 2014!
Support Commercial support for leading open source platforms is now commonplace. Open source is no longer purely for the brave.
Innovation A low barrier to entry is crucial for sparking innovation. Our customers give us a long leash because we dip the toe in new opportunities without demanding large upfront investment.  The best way to have a really good idea is to have lots of ideas.
Cost Efficiency ‘Cost efficient’ software is a nicer way of saying ‘cheap’. When you have an army of developers contributing to your code base in the spirit of collaboration, this helps enable some attractive licensing models. 
Security Over 72% of survey respondents see open source as a benefit to security. This perception has changed considerably in recent years, whereas before the open nature was seen as a potential liability. What greater demonstration of confidence can there be than making your code available for the worlds scrutiny. Implicit trust in proprietary security has proven to be often misguided.
Competition Open source is seen as a way to embrace competitive features and leading technical capabilities. 50% of companies surveyed see open source as enabling their competitive advantage while delivering a rising bar of commodity technology. This resonates with our belief that technology differentiates and platforms over applications.
Cloud The adoption of cloud has seen a massive explosion in open source technology. Open source software is estimated to support over 60% of todays cloud and virtualisation services. 
Deployment The open nature of these platforms ensures natural integration with DevOps frameworks and tool chains. Automating build, deployment and regression testing mitigates risk and ensures repeatability.
Transparency A technical dead end often results in a support call to the vendor. Requests for extensions or enhancements rarely result in fixes which align with project schedules. The value of being able to ‘pop the hood’ when something is awry is invaluable, and the ability to extend the code. 

Open Source – For Sixtree

While an Open Source First mentality has obvious impacts for our customers, it has also helped reshape our consultancy. 

Consideration Commentary
Talent Recruitment is the most difficult aspect of our business. As a small consultancy, we are meticulous about the people we choose to represent us. By engaging with and contributing to the open source community we are connecting with a talented pool of active, enthusiastic and passionate software engineers. Our guys enjoy a curly problem, love to try new things and find a better way.
Culture A growing spirit of generosity and collaboration is reshaping the very culture within Sixtree. Benefiting from the open source code we leverage suggests reciprocal generosity. Our chaps relish the opportunity to contribute to a broader purpose and putting their name next to an elegant fix.
Creativity Access to a plethora of tools and platforms allow our consultants to be creative when attacking challenges. We used to build solutions on a single proprietary platform. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Productivity Open source tooling typically embraces the Continuous Delivery frameworks we use to keep our developers focused and productive. Check out our first impressions of Thoughtworks Go.  
Community Participation in the broader community has opened Sixtree to conversations with prospects and partners about solutions that typically didn’t get exposed to. We love talking technology!

A Destination

While more of a pivot than a destination, Open Source First is now part of a broader set of beliefs which defines Sixtree as a company. It is at the heart of our manifesto we use when curating for our cloud-native open source stack - which now including ESB, BPM, rules, event processing, messaging, search and analytics. We look forward to sharing details about this stack and our evolving suite of partners in the coming weeks.

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