3 Ways to Drive Open Source Software Maturity
Open source software (OSS) is taking over the world. It’s a faster, more collaborative and flexible way of driving software innovation than proprietary code. This flexibility appeals to developers and can help organizational leadership drive down costs while supporting digital transformation goals. The figures speak for themselves: 80% of organizations increased their OSS use in 2022, especially those operating in critical infrastructure sectors such as oil and gas, telecommunications and energy.
However, open source is not a panacea. There can be challenges around governance, security and the balance between contributing to OSS development and preserving a commercial advantage. These each need careful consideration if developers want to maximize the impact of their work on open source projects.
Open Source Software Saves Time and Drives Innovation
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach with OSS. Projects could range from relatively small software components, such as general-purpose Java class libraries, to major systems, such as Kubernetes for container management or Apache’s HTTP server for modern operating systems. Those projects receiving regular contributions from reputable sources are likely to be most widely adopted and frequently updated. But there is already a range of proven benefits across them all.
Open source can save time and resources, as developers don’t have to expend their own energies to produce code. The top four OSS ecosystems are estimated to have recorded over 3 trillion requests for components last year. That’s a great deal of effort potentially saved. It also means those same developer teams can focus more fully on proprietary functionality that advances the baseline functionality available through OSS to boost revenue streams. It’s estimated just $1.1 billion invested in OSS in the EU back in 2018 generated $71 billion to $104 billion for the regional economy.
OSS also encourages experts from across the globe — whether individual hobbyists or DevOps teams from multinational companies — to contribute their coding skills and industry knowledge. The idea is projects will benefit from a large and diverse pool of developers, driving up the quality of the final product. In contributing to these projects, businesses and individuals can stake a claim to the future direction of a particular product or field of technology, helping to shape it in a way that advances their own solutions. Companies also benefit from being at the leading edge of any new discoveries and leaps in innovation as they emerge, so they can steal a march on the competition by being first to market.
This, in turn, can help to drive a culture of innovation at organizations that contribute regularly to OSS. Alongside a company’s track record on patents, their commitment to OSS projects can be a useful indicator to prospective new hires of their level of ambition, helping attract the brightest and best talent going forward.
Three Ways to Drive OSS Maturity
To maximize the benefit of their contributions to the OSS community, DevOps leaders should ensure their organization has a clear, mature approach. There are three key points to consider in these efforts:
1. Define the Scope of the Organization’s Contribution
OSS is built on the expertise of a potentially wide range of individuals and organizations, many of whom are otherwise competitors. This “wisdom of the crowd” can ultimately help to create better-quality products more quickly. However, it can also raise difficult questions about how to keep proprietary secrets under wraps when there is pressure from the community to share certain code bases or functionality that could benefit others. By defining at the outset what they want to keep private, contributors can draw a clear line between commercial advantage and community spirit to avoid such headaches later.
2. Contribute to Open Standards
Open standards are the foundation on which OSS contributors can collaborate. By getting involved in these initiatives, organizations have a fantastic opportunity to shape the future direction of OSS, helping to solve common problems in a manner that will enhance the value of their commercial products. OpenTelemetry is one such success story. This collection of tools, application programming interfaces and software development kits simplifies the capture and export of telemetry data from applications to make tracing more seamless across boundaries and systems. As a result, OpenTelemetry has become a de facto industry standard for the way organizations capture and process observability data, bringing them closer to achieving a unified view of hybrid technology stacks in a single platform.
3. Build Robust Security Practices
Despite the benefits of OSS, there’s always a risk of vulnerabilities slipping into production if they’re not detected and remediated quickly and effectively in development environments. Three-quarters (75%) of chief information security officers (CISOs) worry the prevalence of team silos and point solutions throughout the software development lifecycle makes it easier for vulnerabilities to fly below the radar. Their concerns are valid. The average application development project contains 49 vulnerabilities, according to one estimate. These risks will only grow as ChatGPT-like tools are increasingly used to support software development by compiling code snippets from open source libraries.
Given the dynamic, fast-changing nature of cloud native environments and the sheer scale of open source use, automation is the only way DevOps teams can take control of the situation. To support this, they should converge security data with real-time, end-to-end observability to create a unified source of insights. By combining this with trustworthy AI that can understand the full context behind that observability and security data, teams can unlock precise, real-time answers about vulnerabilities in their environment. Armed with those answers, they can implement security gates throughout the delivery pipeline so bugs are automatically resolved as soon as they are detected.
OSS is increasingly important to long-term success, even for commercially motivated organizations. How effectively they’re able to harness and contribute to its development will define the winners and losers of the next decade. If they put careful consideration into these three key points, DevOps leaders will bring their organizations much closer to being recognized as a leading innovator in their industries.