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Looking towards the horizon

The future of open source: An increased focus on security and performance

Jane Silber
open source
© Shutterstock / IgorZh

Open source’s future is certainly bright: at least 4 out of 5 developers use open source components in their applications. But what does the future have in store for open source? Jane Silber explores how an increased focus on security and performance will have an impact on open source’s usage for the enterprise.

The future of open source is inherently tied to the future of software more generally. When we look to the next few years, we can be sure there will be far more of both and it all will move faster than ever. More importantly, against the backdrop of increasing public scrutiny over the fragility of safety in tech, there will be far more focus on security and artificial intelligence (AI).

Quantity

In a recent report, both Gartner and Forrester stated that between 80-90% of all software developers utilize open source components within their applications. We can expect this number to grow. With every year that passes, more companies see the value in open sourcing common pieces of infrastructure and sharing the further development of them. In addition to the security and technical advantages, sharing development of non-differentiating capabilities allows companies to focus more of their resources on software which more directly differentiates and drives their business.

Due to this increased rate of development, we are now seeing companies not typically associated with open source entering the fray. In 2018, Hitachi, Microsoft, Alibaba and others joined the Open Innovation Network (OIN), the community that supports freedom of action in Linux as a key development of open source software.

Beyond this, the  projects hosted by the Linux Foundation have expanded in scope and now reach far beyond the Linux Kernel. In addition, we’ve seen growth in infrastructure related projects far beyond the traditional LAMP stack, which was such a significant basis of open source adoption (e.g. OpenStack becoming Open Infrastructure, OpenDaylight, OpenSDN, Docker, Kubernetes).

We’ve also seen a significant number of acquisitions in the open source sphere; indeed, the deal amounts reached a staggering $55bn in 2018. Expect to see some big names involved in similar deals over the next few years as consolidation and competitive positioning take hold. In particular, key open source infrastructure players will be drawn to align more closely with corporate interests. This will strengthen open source as strategic play but may potentially limit independence and choice.

SEE ALSO: 2019: From open source battles to the cloud war

Moving faster

This is an incredibly exciting era for open source, as it has now become the default way of developing software. Because of this, some new technical fields are being built from the ground up with open source tools and approaches. For example, key AI and machine learning libraries/frameworks such as TensorFlow are open source and will likely become the enabler for another wave of innovation. Similarly, the Internet of Things (IoT) is coming of age in the era of open source, facilitating faster innovation and the rapid spread of technology.

The open source community has a long history of powering innovation in software, including in software development practices. This will continue as the open source community leads the way in adopting AI to improve software development and maintenance practices.  The open source community will be both the source and beneficiary of AI-driven advances ranging from intelligent coding assistants to automated code generation to analytics to refactoring.

Security

Open source software has a historically strong security track record and we can expect this to continue. Whilst users of proprietary software must accept the level of security the vendor provides, this has never been the case for open source.

As the implications of security vulnerabilities and breaches increase, there will be even more focus on ensuring the security of open source code (and software in general). Commensurate with this increase in speed and of the importance in security, we’ll see the growth of automated tools to find and repair security vulnerabilities (such as Diffblue Secure).

Corporations will continue to open source their AI libraries as they realize both the inherent advantages in open source and that their competitive advantage isn’t in the reasoning engines but rather in the data and learning.  This will result in an explosion of open source AI libraries. Expect more projects, more foundations, and more events until an eventual winnowing to the fittest in 2020 and beyond.

SEE ALSO: GitHub reflections: Was 2018 the year of open source?

What does that mean for the enterprise?

As the future of open source and the future of software in general are inextricably intertwined, it behooves every company to become open source savvy.  That means companies should learn and leverage open source development and deployment trends (as so much innovation originates in open source). Companies also need to not only be a consumer of open source software – they also need to participate and contribute effectively to the open source community.  

This has always been critical as open source is inherently a shared resource system; we need to avoid an open source “tragedy of the commons”, especially now, given the heavy corporate backing of key open source projects. The support and investment from key tech players is critical to the future of open source; contributions from other enterprises, SMBs and general users is equally critical to ensure that the future of open source is open to everyone, not only the well-funded tech firms.

Author

Jane Silber

Jane Silber is the Chair of Diffblue. She’s the former CEO of Canonical. Follow her on Twitter @silbs.


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