In a couple of weeks, I'll participate in a panel discussion on The Future of Open Source in Business. In preparation for that discussion, I figured I'd write down my current thoughts and solicit some feedback. I'll talk about two important trends relevant for the future of Open Source, but there are certainly more.
First, Open Source adoption in the enterprise is trending at an incredible rate — Drupal adoption has grown a lot in 2009 but we saw by far the biggest relative growth in the enterprise. Fueling this movement is the notion that Open Source options present an innovative, economically friendly and more secure alternative to their costly proprietary counterparts. Second, Cloud Computing is a transformational movement in that it enables continual innovation and updating - not to mention a highly expandable infrastructure that will reduce the burden on your IT team.
Two years ago, when starting Acquia, we predicted this would happen so it is no surprise that Acquia's strategy is closely aligned with those two trends: Drupal Gardens, Acquia Hosting and Acquia Search are all built on Open Source tools and delivered as Software as a Service in the cloud. Combining Open Source tools and Cloud Computing makes for the perfect storm for success. It provides real value to end-users and it enables companies to monetize Open Source. It creates a win-win situation.
At the same time, I think we have an opportunity to go beyond that, and to redefine the Software as a Service model based on Open Source values, almost exactly like we started doing 10+ years ago with off-the-shelf software. Almost all Software as a Service providers employ a proprietary model — they might allow you to export your data, but they usually don't allow you to export their underlying code. While a lot of these services might be built on Open Source components, they have a lot more in common with proprietary software vendors than Open Source projects or companies.
There is room for Open Source companies to disrupt this model, and it is probably not something that can be done without the help of Open Source companies. Drupal Gardens provides a good example of this model.
For example, users of Drupal Gardens can help improve Drupal Gardens, simply by contributing to Drupal. By staying close to the Open Source project, everyone can help shape the service. Along the same lines, we want people to be able to export their Drupal Gardens site — the code, the theme and data — and move of the platform to any Drupal hosting environment. By doing so, we provide people an easy on-ramp but we allow them to grow beyond the capabilities of Drupal Gardens without locking them in.
It is "Open SaaS" or Software as a Service done right — it will offer enterprises a much more secure and low-cost alternative to proprietary counterparts and provides many Open Source projects the opportunity to have a much bigger reach. It creates a triple win scenario — for the customer, for the Open Source project and the Open Source company — in a way that wasn't really apparent five years ago. At least not to me.
Have you taken the 2010 Future of Open Source Survey yet? If not, please take a few moments to share your thoughts on where you think Open Source is headed.