Betting On Community: Why Pivotal is All-In On Open Source

April 10, 2019 Neil McAllister

At Pivotal, we’re dedicated to drawing upon open source projects and contributing back to their respective communities. Why? Because we believe community-based development is an essential practice in the modern software era, both for our customers and ourselves.

Pivotal may be best known for Pivotal Cloud Foundry (PCF), our distribution of the Cloud Foundry open source project, managed by the foundation of the same name. But the truth is that we develop, sponsor, and contribute to numerous other open source projects. Foremost is our work on technologies for cloud-native computing, including Kubernetes, Concourse, the Open Service Broker API, Istio, Spinnaker, and Knative.

We’re active in other projects, too, such as Apache Tomcat, Apache Geode, PostgreSQL, RabbitMQ, Spring, and many more.

We’re also members and participants in several prominent open source foundations, including the Apache Software Foundation, the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, the Eclipse Foundation, the Linux Foundation, and TODO.

We take pride in contributing these activities toward the common cause, but they’re also central to how we build software. Let’s examine a number of ways in which the open source software model offers unique and compelling value.


1. Broad Industry Collaboration Leads to True Best-of-Breed Components

There remains a perception that much of open source development is done by college students and hobbyists. But in the world of enterprise open source, this is seldom the case. Just look at the roster of contributors to the Linux kernel and you’ll see that the world’s largest enterprises are all investing heavily in open source software development. In many cases, major competitors will all contribute to the same projects.

The reasons for this “coopetition” are clear. In many cases, enterprise backend and infrastructure software is non-differentiating—that is, one auto manufacturer’s ERP system for ordering tires offers no competitive advantage versus another’s. Thus, there’s no reason not to collaborate. By working together to create software that best supports the needs of their industries, enterprises can more easily automate mundane tasks and concentrate on achieving business outcomes. For example, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen—all Pivotal customers—are all members of the Linux Foundation’s Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) initiative to develop open source automotive software, including infotainment systems, instrument clusters, driver assistance systems, and more.


2. The Open Source Community is a Massive Pool of Talent

For developers today, contributing to open source software is the norm, not an oddity. From recent grads to seasoned professionals, hardly anyone is likely to say they’ve never touched an open source code base.

For organizations looking to recruit developers, that’s a massive boon. With open source code freely accessible to all, the pool of talent with experience with major open source projects is vast. What’s more, modern, internet-based development tools and methods, such as public cloud platforms, distributed source code control, and CI/CD pipelines mean the people with the skills to execute projects are seldom more than a stone’s throw away.


3. Open Source Goes Hand-in-Hand with Open Standards

While the benefits of open source are generally well understood, the value of open standards is often overlooked, though no less important. Not so long ago, proprietary protocols and data formats routinely left customers locked into particular software products. Today, however, the proliferation of open, community-based standards—often developed in tandem with open source projects—has leveled the playing field.

What this gives customers is greater choice. It makes it easier to choose between different databases, message queues, document stores, and other components of their enterprise software stacks, and swap one out for another as deemed necessary. Communication between components need no longer be a barrier to flexibility.


4. Greater Transparency Leads to Greater Security

There’s no better way to understand what your software is doing than to examine the code. Before the advent of open source, few software companies permitted such scrutiny. Today it’s routine, and researchers around the world regularly audit open source projects for vulnerabilities, both independently and within the corporate world.

That’s not to say open source means a project is bulletproof. All software contains flaws, and there will always be the occasional doozy that leads to a major crisis. But open source development methods make it that much more likely that critical vulnerabilities will be caught quickly and, through industry collaboration, can be mitigated before users are exposed to harm.


5. Nothing in Tech Lasts Forever

Today’s business environment is all about agility. The pace of innovation means companies must iterate faster, issuing software releases weekly if not daily. New technologies emerge rapidly and reach widespread adoption at an unprecedented rate. (For example, Kubernetes is only just approaching its fourth anniversary.)

Keeping up with this rapid pace of change means keeping our ear to the ground. By participating in the open source discussion, Pivotal is able to better identify what’s coming next and strategize how best to integrate it into our offerings, with minimal disruption to customers. For example, we’re already exploring ways to integrate such projects as EiriniIstio, and Knative into our platform. And, conversely, the open dialogue means we can also open new conversations when we think the market is ready for change.

Kubernetes, microservices, streaming data, and serverless computing; these are just a few of the technologies we see leading the way for future application development. And as others emerge through community and industry consensus, we’ll continue to work to ensure our customers can adopt them. We do all this so our customers don’t have to; instead, they can concentrate on their core business, whether it’s building cars, selling insurance, or running retail stores.


6. Open Source Helps Pivotal Deliver on Our Mission

Of course, we don’t just want our customers to consume open source. Pivotal takes advantage of many of these same attributes of open source to help advance our own business, too. For example, engaging with the community allows Pivotal to hire experts in emerging technologies from that same broad talent pool to help improve our software and deliver industry-leading support to our customers.

We believe the best path to success isn’t to resist community consensus, but to embrace it. More importantly, even as technologies like Kubernetes become table stakes for modern infrastructure, drawing upon the cornucopia of open source projects allows Pivotal to focus on what we do best: delivering value on top of open source software, by building more vertically integrated offerings that offer the best developer and operations experiences.

All of this is to say that Pivotal believes that in today’s market, building on and participating in open source is critical to success—both for ourselves and our customers. And we’ll continue to seek out leading projects from the open source ecosystem to help evolve our offerings and ensure that we deliver the best platform for modern application delivery.


If you want to experience the Pivotal open source community, check out our page about all the projects we contribute to and don’t forget to get your ticket to SpringOne Platform where you can hear from expert technologists across the open source universe.

About the Author

Neil McAllister

Neil McAllister is a veteran technology journalist covering enterprise technology. He is currently a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Pivotal.

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