I my last post I talked about EMC open-sourcing some of their products (in that scenario ViPR) and how that was probably a covert way of gaining access to other platforms they have no support for.  This week, Nutanix (a hyper-converged solution provider) announced what they are calling their “Community Edition”, a freely downloadable version of the Nutanix Operating System that drives their platform.  Why do this and why is it different to what EMC are attempting?

Although I haven’t been part of the private beta, or even tried out the Nutanix Community Edition, I have read extensively on the posts already written and I’m very familiar with the company and their software.  At it’s core, Nutanix is a hyper-converged platform providing two things; a distributed storage layer and a set of management tools to orchestrate the whole environment.  When you describe it like that, the key IP doesn’t sound that complex (and that’s been an observation from a few commentators), but developing your own file system is no trivial task.  However when you create a new platform, its adoption is driven by both by customers and by an awareness/acceptance in the market that comes from technical people using the software.

In a closed environment those skills developed from using a platform are closely guarded and the marketplace charges accordingly.  In an open environment, learning is unhindered and the value comes from knowledge and the ecosystem that surrounds the platform, namely scripting, customised reporting, automation processes and so on.  This value only comes when there are test/development environments that allow system admins to play and test their code without fear of breaking the production infrastructure.  Most importantly, advancements are made from sharing and adapting code.  Anyone remember Share?  It was the original community for the IBM mainframe; newsletters, tips and code, albeit shared in paper format.  The clue was in the name.

So how does this differ from EMC’s approach?   Well, EMC have chosen to open-source ViPR in the hope that they can gain more traction with storage platforms currently not supported.  That support needs to be developed with native APIs, rather than SMI-S (as SMI-S doesn’t provide the depth the native APIs do) and clearly EMC has issues getting vendors to sign up to support a competitive product.  EMC are hoping that end users and potential customers will create the code necessary and then EMC can re-integrate that code back into the commercial product with the pressure of customers who demand their storage vendors agree support for ViPR.  EMC’s approach isn’t about “community”, but about improving the core product using a different route to development.

Producing community or evaluation editions of software is nothing new; NetApp has always done a great job with their simulator platform, as an example.  The free availability of Linux no doubt has driven the market adoption of that platform and stymied proprietary solutions like AIX and Solaris (although other factors weigh in there too).  In today’s market, if you want your product adopted, provide unhindered access for technical folks to play, learn and understand.  None of this takes away from the value of certification or training programmes but it will get a huge group of influencers on your side.

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