“We are a founding member of more than 10 open source organisations”

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SUSE, a pioneer in open source software, offers reliable, software-defined infrastructure and application delivery solutions that give enterprises greater control and flexibility. With more than 25 years of engineering excellence and a great partner ecosystem, SUSE provides products and support that help its customers manage complexity, reduce cost and confidently deliver mission-critical services.

In an interaction with Aamir H. Kaki, Peter Lees, chief technologist, SUSE Asia Pacific, sheds light on the open source market in India, the role of the government in promoting open source, SUSE’s contribution to open source, and a lot more.

Q Being the world’s first provider of the Enterprise Linux distribution, how has SUSE evolved over time vis-a-vis developments in the open source ecosystem?
A: We, at SUSE, and our team have always been passionate about bringing true open source innovations to our customers, right from when we started 27 years ago, with the first ever Enterprise Linux distribution, through to when we marked our renewed independence on March 15 this year. Today, we continue that passion with an expanded portfolio of leading-edge open source solutions for software-defined infrastructure and application delivery, which allow enterprises to run their workloads anywhere – on premise, in the cloud, or both.
At SUSECON this year, we announced that we are delivering new hybrid and multi-cloud capabilities and application delivery innovations to help customers transform their digital infrastructures in their own way as quickly as they need to.

Q Please share some of the recent contributions made by SUSE to open source.
A: SUSE works ‘upstream first’ in all of its projects. This means that when we are doing development work for our own distributions, we contribute directly into the open source community before packaging for QA and delivery to our customers. Linux itself is made up of thousands of tiny programs, any one of which we might contribute to over the course of a release. On top of that, we are regularly engaged with more than 100 significant open source projects, and work within the communities to deliver and support enterprise-grade Linux, software-defined infrastructure and application delivery solutions. Along with contributing code and documentation to many projects, we are a founding member of more than 10 open source organisations and have board representation on the foundations governing projects such as OpenStack, Linux, Cloud Foundry, Cloud-Native Computing (CNCF), OPNFV (a Linux Foundation Networking umbrella project), Open Mainframe and OpenHPC.

We believe that continuously sharing development work with community projects first, rather than keeping hold of new ideas and only releasing them to communities once a product is available, creates a stronger ecosystem and provides a more dependable foundation for our customers. The recent launch of SUSE Cloud Application Platform 1.4 is a great example of how SUSE is bringing the Kubernetes and Cloud Foundry communities together. SUSE Cloud Application Platform 1.4 is the first distribution to introduce a Cloud Foundry Application Runtime in an entirely Kubernetes-native architecture. It brings together the best of both worlds for lightweight deployment and rapid development of applications, as well as increases options for IT operation teams to deploy into multi-cloud environments.

Q How do you see the role of the Indian government in promoting open source software in the country?
A: We are glad to see the Indian government adopting freedom of choice by leveraging the scalability and robustness of open source software, and encouraging the public sector to opt for open source through more concrete and comprehensive policies. The initiatives to introduce the use of open standards and open source technologies in the public sector will help India to strengthen its position in IT and bridge the digital divide with significant cost savings. This will facilitate the creation of what the Indian government wants — “a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.”

Q How can open source play a role in empowering India digitally and ensuring the success of Digital India? Is SUSE playing or planning to play any role in such government initiatives?
A: The Indian government has been backing open source software development and the announcement of the open source policy has given massive impetus to this segment. The policy mandates that state-run departments promote and adopt open source for their software applications and services. This has given a significant push to innovation in the government departments, leading to better services for citizens. We are sure that open source can help greatly in bridging the digital divide in the country.
We see a significant opportunity for open source with the introduction of Make in India, where SUSE is enabling cloud services and value-added service providers with cutting-edge, enterprise-class open source technologies. With respect to smart cities, too, we are currently working with a host of projects around the country.

Q What kind of association do you have with vendors and partners in the technology space?
A: India is a very important market for SUSE. In this market, we are 100 per cent channel driven, which means that partnership is the key to our success. We work through three levels of partners — large global systems integrators (who are based in India), local and global technology partners (including independent hardware vendors and cloud service providers), and state or city-specific partners. Our channel programme is based on ‘Technology’ certification, in which partners are assessed on their understanding of SUSE solutions and their capacity to support end customers.

To enable our partners, we offer an easily accessible training programme for developing the necessary skills, and a flexible certification process that can be completed online. We believe that we have one of the most accessible partner-enablement programmes in the industry. We truly believe it should be a mutual partnership, rather than treating our channel as another source of revenue through training and certification.

“One of the great advantages of open source is that ideas don’t get lost, as they can be when a proprietary company shuts down a product or gets acquired”

Q Open source or proprietary software – which business model do you think works for vendors as well as customers? And why?
A: It is clear that almost all new software innovations are happening in the open source arena. On that basis, open source has a clear advantage over proprietary software — both for customers and vendors. Besides that, the importance of ‘freedom of choice’ cannot be overstated. This is what SUSE means when we say we are the “open, open source company” – being able to choose not only what technology to use but who you want to work with on it, is a clear benefit to the end customer who does not have to fear vendor lock-in, or that a vendor will cancel and bury a product, or be bought out. There are a lot of other advantages for customers such as security, flexibility, ability to customise and so on. Many of these translate into advantages for vendors as well – you don’t have to employ all of the people to develop your idea, but can collaborate with other organisations, including your customers and even your competitors, in order to get the best technical solution.

We can see that even the largest IT companies in the world are working with open source, so the model is already established. It is important, though, to differentiate between true open source – where organisations collaborate and work together within a community, and ‘closed’ open source, where all of the work on a project is performed by only one organisation, which then publishes the source code after releasing a product. That model is just proprietary, though it has a different name, and should be avoided.

Q How do you see the growth of open source software (OSS) in India in the next 4-5 years?
A: Digital disruption is the norm in today’s tech-centric era and open source is the enabler of technology innovations that are reshaping the IT world. Open source is now pervasive and is the driving force behind many tech trends that we see today: AI/ML, autonomous systems, Big Data analytics, Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing, to name a few.

A recent market research report shows that organisations around the world are adopting OpenStack in their cloud based services to benefit from cost savings, customisation, innovation, etc, and the OpenStack market is expected to reach US$ 1.38 billion by 2026. Containers will be another concept that will help organisations accelerate application delivery — microservices running in containers, on an open and scalable cloud infrastructure, are the future of applications. Cloud-native infrastructures such as OpenStack and Kubernetes are going to be an absolute necessity for enterprises for a successful DevOps journey.

So we expect that the market for OSS in India (and the rest of the world) will continue to grow and that too at a fast pace. Over the past few years, we’ve seen regular doubling of our own business, and this reflects the increasing adoption of open source technologies in government and enterprise — for both new advanced technologies and migration from old proprietary UNIX systems to the highly available enterprise Linux.

Q Can you recollect and share your first encounter with OSS? What were your initial thoughts when you came across it?
A: I installed the first Linux around 1993 on a friend’s 486 computer, using floppy disks. It felt like we were really in control of a system for the first time. Part of that was through necessity, as I had to do a lot of tweaking to get things to work in the early days. But I do recall that it was great to know you could reach out to other real people – the community – to help with your questions, rather than having to rely on some faceless corporation.

Q Has OSS affected your professional life in any way?
A: As a 6-year veteran of SUSE, I think it’s fair to say open source has had a significant impact on my professional life. But long before joining SUSE, I had a career in Web development which would not have been possible without the open source community of the day.

Q How do you see the current status of OSS? Is it as per your expectations?
A: Open source has matured, along with the acceptance of the Internet, from a geek-only thing into a standard way of doing business. One of the great advantages of open source is that ideas don’t get lost, as they can be when a proprietary company shuts down a product or gets acquired. This means that we can continually build on the knowledge that came before us, with the freedom to fork a project and develop in a new direction if necessary. The scale of open source acceptance has probably exceeded my expectations or imagination from when I first started working with it in the early 1990s.

Q What would your advice be to youngsters who may still be unsure about investing their career in OSS-related tech?
A: OSS is where the new technology is, and where the new ideas are being developed. Being involved in open source not only exposes you to the latest innovations, but it also offers flexibility in your career. Consider the people who built their career on proprietary systems from companies that don’t exist anymore – a lot of their hard-won technical knowledge is no longer useful outside of a museum. Being involved in OSS technology helps you to stay fresh with skills and knowledge that are transferable. Just like with end customers, there is no vendor lock-in.

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