How Serious is VMware About Open Source?

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Media pundits everywhere seemed to be filled with surprise Wednesday, when VMware’s CEO and CTO were both singing praises to open source at VMworld Europe in Barcelona. With open source taking over the data center, even much of the proprietary software being built on code that started as open source, I’m not sure why that’s surprising. The world’s biggest data center software company has little choice but to embrace open source if it wishes to remain that way.

“When we look at the world of open source, it is very very powerful in its ability to produce innovation and cool ideas,” VMware’s CTO Ray O’Farrell said. “But it’s not the software itself, it’s the community that builds up and is able to leverage open source.”

The “community” of which he was speaking appears to be developers rather than users, although I’m sure he’s more than happy to embrace open source users who are wanting to include VMware in their plans. He mentioned that a year ago the company created an office under his jurisdiction that’s focused on working with the developer community.

“The bottom line is, we want to engage with this community more, and this is a great way for us to contribute to it,” he said.

“One of the biggest things we want to do is open up our own product APIs and build a gilt-edged opportunity for the open source community. We haven’t been great at that over the years, but we’re working on getting cleaner APIs out to open source community.”

Unlike some companies with proprietary DNA (Oracle comes to mind for some reason) VMware should have little trouble learning to work hand-in-hand with open source developers, if it sets its collective mind to it. Why? Because the company has quite a bit of open source DNA coarsing through its veins.

Cloud Foundry, for example, the multi-cloud application platform as a service that these days is developed by the Linux Foundation through its Cloud Foundry Foundation, was originally released in 2011 as an open source project by VMware, developed in-house by then CTO Derek Collison. Over the years, the company has also been a contributor to the Linux kernel and OpenStack and remains active in the Open vSwitch project, another Linux Foundation undertaking which develops and maintains a multilayer virtual switch used in network automation.

The company’s GitHub page also boasts of current open source projects, with a partial list of 15 projects that are “created and released by our engineers.” Included are Harbor, a container registry server based on Docker; Admiral, a scalable and lightweight container management platform; and Liota, an SDK for building secure IoT gateway data and control orchestration applications.

Often, a large software company making noises about building better relationships with open source developers will bring a sigh of skepticism from dyed-in-the-wool open source advocates. In this case, however, I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. But time will tell.

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  1. When open source opens in Barcelona, they also have the opportunity to access more.

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