OSS and the Power of Collective Intelligence
By Murat Aksu, Vice President of Marketing, Zenoss
Wikipedia describes the current economic era we are in as the "Intangible
Economy." In this era, four factors of production are the key resources
used as competitive advantage in every economic activity. They are:
- Knowledge assets (what we know)
- Collaboration assets (who we interact with to create value)
- Engagement assets (our level of effort and commitment)
- Time quality (how quickly value is created)
By most accounts, the Intangible Economy did not start until 2002. How did
we get here? I think it is the leveling effects of the Internet on commerce
and OSS on IT.
Leveling Effects of Internet on Commerce
The Internet was started by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
for purposes of e-mail and file transfer. In 1991, World Wide Web (Web) was
added as an additional service for interconnecting documents and other resources
as links. According to Internet World Stats, as of June of 2007 there were 1.133
billion people using the Internet. The accelerating pace of growth for Internet
is phenomenal compared to the growth patterns of Radio, TV or even the PC.
It was only a matter of time before the Internet, like the radio and TV, was
applied to commerce. As browsers became available and enabled ordinary citizens
to surf the Web, the Amazon effect kicked in. At the beginning, the Web did
not provide rich, compelling and interesting information. Take a step back and
think about what Amazon was able to accomplish. Millions of book titles that
no shop or library could house under one roof were made available to the world
with the click of a button. In addition, Amazon bypassed established power houses
such as New York Times, and created its own Amazon Best Seller list based on
its own sales. Shoppers at Amazon no longer relied on a few Ivory Tower reviewers
to judge a book; instead they opted to read shopper-generated reviews. With
one URL, Amazon was able to rock the foundations of the established players
of its industry. Amazon used the Internet to create a commercial entity in a
record time that no brick-and-mortar company could have ever imagined possible.
Following Amazon, a host of Internet-based companies were started and offered
services that enabled small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to engage customers
leveraging the new medium. With dramatically falling prices for the Internet
technology, SMBs were able set up shop to not only exchange e-mail, documents,
and information with their customers, but also streaming video, music, live
chat, and sex. In a very short amount time, Internet allowed thousands of companies
to flourish and compete head to head with established global giants.
Leveling effects of Open Source for IT
It may be hard to imagine, but what we now call OSS was once the norm. Software
engineers using the hardware were also often the ones who would write the code
and develop the applications. The source code and the applications were often
made freely available to anyone who needed them through user groups. In the
1970s that changed as the Department of Justice ordered the large systems manufacturers
to "unbundle" their software from their systems and the software became
what we now think of as "proprietary."
Richard Stallman became disenchanted with that. He formed a "user group"
to offer a "replacement for proprietary" software. Stallman wanted
all software to be freely available to anyone who wanted to use it. In Richard's
definition 'Free" refers not to price, but to freedom: freedom to change
or hire somebody else to modify the source code, freedom to redistribute copies
to share with other people and freedom to make improvements and publish them
for others to benefit from it.
Similarly and around the same time as the Internet was leveling the field for
SMBs in commerce, an unknown engineer Linus Torvalds in Helsinki, Finland released
an operating system (OS) kernel that he called Linux (for Linus' UNIX) using
Stallman's philosophy. He shared his source code with everyone, for free. The
most amazing thing was that Linus' software also worked well. This was revolutionary!
Aren't we supposed to guard our intellectual property and charge money for our
Apache, Red Hat and the Internet
As Richard Stallman and others started to rewrite and replace UNIX programs
one by one on top of Linux, Internet technology made it possible for others
to download and use them for free. However the meteoric rise of Linux did not
take place until it found a killer app in the age of Internet. That killer app
came in the form of web server software called Apache, developed to handle the
complex web technologies that the Internet commerce companies needed. Apache
servers powered by dependable Linux OS followed. The powerful combination offered
tangible business benefits as cost effective and community supported alternatives
to Microsoft's Windows and Internet Information Server (IIS). Other large software
suppliers squeezed by Microsoft in their traditional backyard were all too happy
to promote the Linux/Apache duo. As the commercialization of "free software"
began, a new and descriptive name, open source, appeared. The Red Hat initial
public offering (IPO) in 1999 changed the IT industry in many aspects. It upgraded
the image of OSS from hobbyware to enterprise software; and made sophisticated
IT affordable to companies of all sizes around the globe.
Our Time is the Right Time
This gives the SMBs unprecedented access to a greater breadth of high quality
tools that are readily available at a lower total cost. This is evidenced by
the availability of enterprise-ready OSS tools in virtually every segment of
IT infrastructure including databases (MySQL, postgreSQL), application servers
(JBoss, Geronimo), content management and network (Joomla!, Liferay), and systems
management (Nagios, Zenoss).
Just as the Internet leveled the playing field for commerce, improved economics
with the use of OSS allow the SMBs to participate in formerly cost prohibitive
large enterprise activities like implementing IT Information Lifecycle (ITIL)
principles. This ability to use affordable enterprise grade technology combined
with world class processes enables SMBs to become competitive entities, which
leads to unprecedented global economical growth. Companies around the world
can now have immediate access to high quality IT that can be turned into competitive
advantage and provide equal footing against large companies in open markets.
Just as with the Internet and commerce, OSS and IT professionals greatly benefit
from massive worldwide collaboration and the ability to tap into "peer
production." This is a combination of collective intelligence and collaboration
in the same way the wiki website Wikipedia benefits from the collective wisdom
of many people and video sharing company YouTube receives content from thousands,
if not millions of users.
All of this brings us back to the era we live in, the "Intangible Economy."
It relies on what we know and who we interact with to share knowledge for creating
value. Its benefits are dependent upon our level of effort and how quickly value
is created. The Intangible Economy creates the perfect environment for OSS to
thrive supported by communities not bound by space and time. In these communities
of choice location is not a factor for sharing knowledge for a common interest.
The more we feel part of a network, the more we become willing to put in the
effort to create value, based on our individual interests that are shared and
benefited by others. Networks that operate beyond the boundaries of time and
space are able to greatly increase the time quality in creating value.
It is no surprise that the OSS movement that has been championing the benefits
of open collaboration, collective wisdom, and common interest-based participation
is benefiting the most out of our Intangible Economy. OSS is the way of our
time to develop and use any technology including IT. Companies who tap into
the benefits will emerge as the leaders of tomorrow. Those companies that fail
to adapt, will soon have their products exhibited at the Smithsonian.
About the Author
Murat Aksu is responsible for Products and Marketing for Zenoss. Formerly Director of Product Marketing of Application Delivery for Mercury Interactive/HP Software, Murat brings to Zenoss more than 10 years of experience in applications, security, and software markets globally. His previous experience within Mercury/HP Software saw Murat head up Competitive and Market Intelligence, Engagement Management and Pre Sales. Murat has built and managed marketing organizations for companies and division from zero to $200+ million in license revenues. Murat began his career as a technical manager at a variety of technology companies such as Manhattan Associates and Georgia Pacific. He holds a B.A in International Business from Florida State University and a MS in Computer Information Systems from Georgia State University in Atlanta.More by Murat Aksu