Brent Schroeder took charge as Global CTO at German open source software firm Suse in June this year, about a year after it was acquired by private equity firm EQT Partners. The deal valued Suse, which was earlier owned by UK-headquartered enterprise software firm Micro Focus International Plc, at $2.5 billion.
Suse was founded in 1992 just around when the global open source community started to build and scale software similar to the proprietary solutions created by technology giants such as Microsoft and Adobe. Today, Suse, which started life as a Linux distributor, plays in the open source infrastructure and application delivery market.
Like Suse, Schroeder has worked with the open source ecosystem since the nineties and signed up with the company sometime last year. He was recently in Bengaluru to visit Suse’s operations here. In an interview with TechCircle, Schroeder spoke about how open source software development has become mainstream and why he believes that open source is the way to go for enterprises that are embracing digital transformation.
What are some of the major apprehensions surrounding open source software development? How has the environment changed over the past five years?
Some of the concerns of individuals who have no prior experience with open source is just the notion that it is open and available to everybody, and that also led to questions around security. The other is predictability and accountability. There is an entire community that builds the software. But who is going to be accountable when something goes wrong with the software, especially from an enterprise standpoint? Instead of generally asking the community to help me solve my problem, enterprises usually want to have a single entity accountable for any issues.
The biggest change over the last few years is the momentum around who is participating in the open source community. Back in 1995, when open-source really took off, the community consisted of technical people who wanted to collaborate in their spare time or wanted to create an alternative to an existing proprietary solution. For almost two decades, open source was about people coming together to create an alternative to solutions provided by proprietary vendors.
The big shift in the last five years is the transformation of being a fast follower of proprietary solutions to having innovation happening within open source.
Has there been a change in terms of the contributors to the open source community over the years?
The community has changed from a group of people who just wanted to do good, to collaboration occurring between industries, governments, enterprises. The complexion of the community has also changed over the past five years. While open source companies were the biggest contributors of the projects, today contributors also include the likes of Google, Microsoft and a host of other mainstream technology companies.
Open source has moved from fast-following to now being about collectively innovating on mutual problems. Companies who have been traditionally anchored in proprietary software and building it in a proprietary manner starting to recognise that their competitors were adopting open source for enterprise grade requirements.
How has the mindset of enterprises changed with respect to the adoption of open source today?
It is not just about cutting costs anymore. In the early days the motivation for enterprises was that open source software was free. It has now shifted to the notion of collaboration, innovation and openness and to not bind the software to one company’s ideas.
Open source also provides greater flexibility in the choice of partners as we are not locked into one solutions provider with their proprietary products. While there isn’t an open source alternative to everything, we’re seeing continued acceleration and it is surprising to note that it is being driven more from the customer side. Enterprises now demand and choose open source solutions as their first preference which has led to many proprietary solutions providers being forced to adapt to open source solutions to survive and be part of the progression.
Would you say that the future of how enterprises run and how they adopt digital transformation is going to be predominantly driven by open source?
I believe how the infrastructure runs, the ecosystem runs and the technologies they use to do development will be based on open source. For example, a critical technology at the forefront of all areas is going to be machine learning (ML). If we identify five breakthrough areas that are going to ride the technology wave, they will be mostly enabled by ML and will be at the root of all innovations for the next five years.
And, the interesting fact is that all of the latest ML technologies run on open source today. Tensorflow, Caffe and some of the bigger database and analytics environments have all been built on open source. It is the collaboration that lets the technology accelerate that much faster.
Apart from ML, most of the blockchain projects are also being built and run on open source while IoT (internet of things) innovations are being led by the same. Hence it is safe to say that most emerging technologies are going to be fuelled by open source.
A major concern for enterprises is that they don’t have the expertise to choose the right OS project and if they adopt multiple projects, there could be problems with synergies. How is Suse addressing these issues for enterprises?
When we take the Cloud Native Computing Project (CNCF) there are hundreds of projects in CNCF and many are competing or are alternative projects that work on similar issues. Our role is to monitor the whole spectrum and identify promising software and help it move from the concept phase to prototype until we can see that it is enterprise ready. A big part of our job is to put together these projects into a singular solution or a portfolio that works together and tracking the life cycle management of the different entities. The balancing act of open source becomes more pervasive when we ask how the different pieces are going to fit together.
How does an enterprise bet their business on open source being robust, reliable and serviceable?
SUSE invests more on R&D to make sure that these projects work together than on new software, that we can resolve these compatibility issues and take care of lifecycle management so that an enterprise can keep up with the progression of the projects and manage their service to customers better.
Some companies stumble when they take it upon themselves to manage open source on their own. It can become a very significant investment in tracking all of the open source projects by themselves, validating it, and determining when to adapt and roll it out, which is a complex task in itself. This is where companies like Suse can help enterprises. For example, when we can put Oracle Cloud Infrastructure together with Kubernetes, Helm and guide it in being managed by the Cloud Foundry, this is the type of expertise that we offer.
How can you ensure a smooth transition for enterprises from the edge to the core to the cloud?
Enterprises have multiple tiers of platforms. They have bare metal, virtual machines in some environments and containers too. My philosophy on edge to the core to the cloud is the notion of consistency and seamlessness. Our approach is that regardless of where the technology or device is in the location, we need consistent management, consistent interface and consistent experience for the solution.
For example, in our operating system called Suse Linux Enterprise Server (SLES), we use one source tree for SLES. If you’re running on different operating systems such as Raspberry pi, Intel on an IBM power system or on an IBM Z mainframe, the solution will always be available on one platform. If you are developing applications, you can be confident that you can deploy in one operating system and run in another, because it is ultimately going to work as a singular codebase. We are making sure that this happens at the virtual machine level, physical level, container level and at the server level.
My vision is that it would be one consistent platform. As we move forward, the theme that will be applied across our portfolio will be of a seamless edge to the core to the cloud experience.