Chef goes 100% open source

Chef, the popular automation service, today announced that it is open-sourcing all of its software under the Apache 2 license. Until now, Chef used an open core model with a number of proprietary products that complemented its open-source tools. Most of these proprietary tools focused on enterprise users and their security and deployment needs. Now, all of these tools, which represent somewhere between a third and a half of Chef’s total code base, are open source, too.

“We’re moving away from our open core model,” Chef SVP of products and engineering Corey Scobie told me. “We’re now moving to exclusively open-source software development.”

He added that this also includes open product development. Going forward, the company plans to share far more details about its roadmap, feature backlogs and other product development details. All of Chef’s commercial offerings will also be built from the same open-source code that everybody now has access to.

Scobie noted there are a number of reasons why the company is doing this. He believes, for example, that the best way to build software is to collaborate in public with those who are actually using it.

“With that philosophy in mind, it was really easy to justify how we’d take the remainder of the software that we produce and make it open source,” Scobie said. “We believe that that’s the best way to build software that works for people — real people in the real world.”

Another reason, Scobie said, is that it was becoming increasingly difficult for Chef to explain which parts of the software were open source and which were not. “We wanted to make that conversation easier, to be perfectly honest.”

Chef’s decision comes during a bit of a tumultuous time in the open-source world. A number of companies like Redis, MongoDB and Elastic have recently moved to licenses that explicitly disallow the commercial use of their open-source products by large cloud vendors like AWS unless they also buy a commercial license.

But here is Chef, open-sourcing everything. Chef co-founder and board member Adam Jacob doesn’t think that’s a problem. “In the open core model, you’re saying that the value is in this proprietary sliver. The part you pay me for is this sliver of its value. And I think that’s incorrect,” he said. “I think, in fact, the value was always in the totality of the product.”

Jacob also argues that those companies that are moving to these new, more restrictive licenses, are only hurting themselves. “It turns out that the product was what mattered in the first place,” he said. “They continue to produce great enterprise software for their customers and their customers continue to be happy and continue to buy it, which is what they always would’ve done.” He also noted that he doesn’t think AWS will ever be better at running Elasticsearch than Elastic or, for that matter, at running Chef better than Chef.

It’s worth noting that Chef also today announced the launch of its Enterprise Automation Stack, which brings together under a unified umbrella all of Chef’s tools (Chef Automate, Infra, InSpec, Habitat and Workstation).

“Chef is fully committed to enabling organizations to eliminate friction across the lifecycle of all of their applications, ensuring that, whether they build their solutions from our open-source code or license our commercial distribution, they can benefit from collaboration as code,” said Chef CEO Barry Crist. “Chef Enterprise Automation Stack lets teams establish and maintain a consistent path to production for any application, in order to increase velocity and improve efficiency, so deployment and updates of mission-critical software become easier, move faster and work flawlessly.”


Tigera raises $10M to help enterprises secure their cloud native applications

 Tigera, a San Francisco-based startup that helps businesses connect and secure their container-based applications, today announced that it has raised an additional $10 million in a funding round led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from New England Associates (NEA) and Wing Venture Capital. Read More


Open Source, the MySQL market (and TokuDB in particular)

Open Source & the MySQL marketI was reviewing the Percona Live sponsors list the other day and pondering the potential success stories associated with this product or that one…. and as I was preparing to put more thought on the topic, a PlanetMySQL post caught my eye. It was penned by Mike Hogan and titled, “Thoughts on Xeround and Free!

For some reason the author of that post makes a connection between a free account in a cloud-based service and Open Source software. I think it’s an incorrect analogy, as they are two totally different things. A “free account” in this case is really just a marketing tool. Well, I admit there are companies that also use the “Open Source” mark as a marketing tool, too – we often can see this in products based on Open Core models. But in my opinion Open Core is not Open Source, and the Open Source model is something different.

Now let me state that I am not an Open Source fanatic and I totally accept different models.

Open Source should be considered as a way of providing additional value to customers of  your product. Namely, if your product is Open Source, you provide the following benefits to your customers:

  • No vendor lock-in. And this is significant. Customers often choose products that allow them to avoid being locked in to one product. For example, I believe there is no way a closed-source software product will ever be deployed in a Facebook data center.
  • No service provider lock-in. Customers should be able to choose who provides services for your product.
  • Independent expertise. Customers like to get trustworthy information that does not come from the vendor of the product.
  • A wide user base and community around your product.
  • Growing public knowledge: discussions on blogs, forums, social networks.

Well, of course, some or all of these values are achievable with proprietary products, but for me Open Source is the easiest path to all of them.

Now, I understand that you as a vendor may not like some of above. I expect that some vendors tend to love “vendor lock-in,” and it also helps your bottom line if you are the one and only service provider for a given product. But the question here is: Do you care more about your customers – or do you and your investors come first?

And it is fine (it really is) with me if you decide to take the proprietary license path, but in that case you should expect that users will choose an alternative Open Source solution, even if this solution is less functional and somewhat lower quality. And this choice is not because it is “free” as in “a free cloud database account,” rather it’s because it is “free” as in proving the freedom to choose vendors, service providers, expertise, etc.

TokuDB is a good example. Even with a great technology, before becoming Open Source they had “no fewer than 12 customers” (source: Forbes). And I name that “struggling.” I think it was the same for Schooner and Kickfire, two companies that based their products on a closed-source version of MySQL… and you know their fate – sold for assets with a loss for investors as their products did not reach a sustainable number of customers.

As for TokuDB: after its Open Source announcement, as anecdotal evidence, their website got so much traffic all at once that it went down, and within two weeks they have had more interest from the community than during all previous years. I expect that TokuDB will see a tenfold increase in users during the next year.

However, becoming Open Source, by itself, is by no means enough to have a successful business. There are two examples: First, the PBXT storage engine from PrimeBase – even with an open source engine, the company eventually could not fund further development, and this engine is pretty much dead today. Second is a recent example from the Monty Program – they have the Open Source product MariaDB with raising popularity. But as a business they failed to attract paying customers and had to merge with SkySQL.  I name that a business failure (even though it is widely publicized as a “success” by their marketing teams) – it is quite hidden among all buzz, but you can find some grains of truth in the article “Dead database walking: MySQL’s creator on why the future belongs to MariaDB.” To quote that article: “In principle, anyone who has an interest in MySQL and MariaDB surviving should contact the MariaDB foundation and ask about sponsoring it … We have some big sponsors already, but not as many as we originally hoped for .. One problem we had was that we needed to prove that MariaDB is ‘good enough’ to be able to attract paying customers ….”

So in addition to an Open Source product, you also need a business model that works. And be sure: the Open Source game is a marathon, it is not a sprint. Be ready for at least a 5-year run to gain user confidence (this is a hint for Tokutek).

To summarize my thoughts: If you are in the MySQL market and your product is under proprietary license (not an Open Source one) you set the bar to success high and you will have a harder time attracting customers, because customers prefer Open Source alternatives. This is not because everybody likes “free beer,” but because customers like freedom of choice.

Everything here is my personal position, but I welcome your comments.

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