Think local, go ‘open’

Open source technologies are making significant inroads in governments around the world, avers Gopi Ganapathy, President & CEO, Essentia, US ( This is as a result of open source providing significant benefits such as low cost, flexibility of use and modification, lack of vendor lock-in, and most important of all the ability to create drive a vibrant local economy of solution providers in innovation, development, deployment, training and support, adds Gopi, during a recent interaction with Business Line.

“It is pure and simple economics. Times are tough, the amount of work needed to generate what we did just two years ago is doubling, we need to get productive and efficient without compromising our ability to innovate. Open source is the way.”

Our conversation continues over the email. Excerpts from the interview.

Why should India pay attention to open source?

It saves us time, money and gives high quality IP (intellectual property) created by the best minds in the business to us for free to use as we like and innovate. For instance, Open office instead of MS office saves $300; and DimDim webchat is a free service provided to Indians.

The world is changing around us (flat world, Internet, recession, bottom of the pyramid, etc.). Two macro trends with strong consensus are that the world’s growth will come from emerging economies with India in the top three leading the charge.

Just like the industrial revolution powered the western world, information technology will power the emerging countries in the 21st century.

Economic power will be driven by businesses that innovate and capture niche opportunities in low-income, high-growth, globally-connected, and information-dense environments.

Software powers this information age and open source provides the only avenue for emerging economies to build from a strong baseline of disruptive, IP rich, state-of-the-art open source applications and infrastructure that is freely provided by the developed countries to further localise, customise and innovate so as to meet the needs of the local environment.

Think Tier-2 Salem-optimised solution developed and deployed to meet their exact needs with its unique practices, lingo, and economic drivers by Salem innovators.

Dr Kalam recognised that for India to move forward and achieve its ambitious goals of becoming a world power it needs not only physical infrastructure, energy and open markets but also affordable software, controlled and innovated locally and inserted into every aspect of our economy, be it government services, public education, MSME businesses or household brands.

To quote, “In India, open-source code software will have to come and stay in a big way for the benefit of our billion people.” And it is also about the need for controlling our own destiny rather than rely on Redmond (Microsoft) or Redwood City (Oracle) to control software innovation and face the same detrimental effects of dependence on the Middle East for oil.

To quote Dr Kalam again: “Further spread of IT, which is influencing the daily life of individuals, would have a devastating effect on the lives of society due to any small shift in the business practice involving these proprietary solutions. It is precisely for these reasons open source software needs to be built, which would be cost-effective for the entire society.”

What have been the significant examples of innovation driven by open source in recent times?

Every major innovation in the last few years would not have happened without open source.

YouTube, which was founded in February 2005, reached 30 million video views/day in March 2006 and jumped to 100 million video views by July of 2006 and currently broke through a billion views per day. That’s at least 11,574 views per second, 694,444 views per minute, and 41,666,667 views per hour. It is completely built on open source like Linux, MySQL, Apache, and Python.

Twitter is built on open source all the way from infrastructure like Linux, Hadoop, Scripe, Kestrel, etc.

The amazing Amazon Cloud Service (55 million customers, 1 million partners/resellers) disrupts the mainstay of traditional IT (i.e. systems, OS, hardware, networking, storage) with a pay-per-use model that is extremely inexpensive and provides a world-class IT infrastructure to rapidly build and deploy innovative products and services by anybody in the globe to serve any global region for about $75/month. It is built from the ground up on open source (Linux, Oracle, C++, Perl, Mason, Java, Jboss, Servlets, etc.)

Even Google leverages open source in almost every service they build including search, mail, chat, maps, etc. Hear Chris DeBono talk about Google’s dependence on the open source model and how they have embraced it for many of their recent offerings like Android (mobile phone operating system), WebOS, and so on.

DimDim (popular Indian video conferencing) and Zoho (popular Indian Google Docs) clone are leveraging both the open source model and building blocks.

Does open source get due attention from CTOs and system integrators?

Open source continues to grow as companies proactively look for open source solutions. Let me cite the findings of a recent industry-wide survey:

* 75 per cent of respondents say their companies are very open to the use of open source software using it in “many situations” or “proactively using open source whenever possible.”

* 81 per cent of respondents say their companies are likely to use open source projects that have a commercial support option.

* 86 per cent are likely to use open source that is offered under an open source licence with paid support as an option.

Is open source getting leveraged by major corporations with considerable benefits?

Open source saw a gravity-defying year during the deep recession in 2009 according to Matt Asay, well-known open source blogger.

Examples of Fortune 500 companies that have realised significant gains with the use of open source are listed below:

* ETrade was able to cut $13 million a year from its tech spending by switching to open source software.

* H&R Block, Men’s Wearhouse, and Shinsei Bank are all now paying customers of SugarCRM, which posted record revenue in the third quarter.

* Office Depot has been steadily moving from IBM and Sun solutions to running Linux on its servers, with about 400 servers running Linux software from Novell.

* The Los Angeles Times has been steadily aggregating collections of images and video using Alfresco’s enterprise content management system.

Open source is now trusted by serious antagonists and sceptics such as the US Military due to its power as an innovation platform with full control. For example, open source software is now formally blessed for all information technology systems in the US Department of Defence including the Navy and the Marine Corps.

“It’s not just a question of cost that drives the US military to buy open source. The increasing scope and complexity of military software requirements requires the use of open source. The biggest benefits come down to innovation and flexibility. The department recognises the importance of open source software to the Warfighter and the need to leverage its benefits throughout the Department of the Navy,” according to the memo issued by Navy CIO Robert Carey.

Notable recently-announced programmes such as the Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS), and organisations such as the Defence Information Systems Agency (DISA) and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) are setting policies and infrastructure in place for using open source technologies in mission-critical applications.

What do you see as the emerging open source success stories in India?

Professor Rahul De of IIM Bangalore has studied the broad leverage India can derive with just a minor open source adoption along the lines of the successes seen in IT@School Kerala and LIC and projects about Rs 10,000 crore of savings with just basic open source adoption.

• IT@School project by the Government of Kerala saved Rs 49 crore with open source.

• LIC saves Rs 42 crore annually with open source.

• New India Assurance saves Rs 80 crore with open source.

In what areas of open source is cutting-edge work currently happening?

Cutting edge innovation has been happening in open source from day 1. Open source tools are simply modern replacements for traditional tools developed and franchised by proprietary vendors during the client-server era (pre Internet). They are better, faster, have higher quality and better security and yet are freely available. In every market and every vertical you will see open source tools.

For example, Kaltura open source video server technology is for everyone to have the opportunity to create their own YouTube for an optimised, localised vertical/ market/ social network/ group. You know how much like google it has become to find anything useful in YouTube; people just use it as their personal video library and avoid paying the high bandwidth costs – searching through and finding what you want has so much clutter that fresh folks can only stumble upon interesting things.

The cutting edge innovation in open source is happening around the business model. The idea of giving away ‘core IP’ (i.e. core value proposition) for free and building an economically sustainable long-term business has always been a challenge. Red Hat (open source enterprise linux) distributor is the only public open source company tracking to $1 billion in annual revenues. There are a few sub $20 million/3 years open source companies, including Essentia, that are seeing explosive growth. The next few years will see major successes.

Any other points of interest.

The open source model is a method of creating software where the source code is openly shared, and that will appear very strange to both current software users and the large emerging group looking to leverage computers, application (both consumer/ business) in their homes and businesses. For, this is in stark contrast to how conventional software providers such as Microsoft closely guard the source code to products like Windows Vista.

People who create any given open-source software project usually don’t work for one company. The creators are typically a community of software developers—often thousands of them—spread across the globe. Open source harnesses the power of the community for rapid collaborative development, peer feedback, distribution, full lifecycle transparency and flexible licensing models.

The open source software development approach is more democratic than proprietary software, and the debates are public. The community tends to regulate itself and focus on longer-term rather than short-term goals.

Adoption of open source needs some deep understanding to really leverage open source as it becomes pervasive. Initiatives to adopt open source, be they through integration of open source and proprietary technology or starting a new initiative, require a sound strategic planning that takes into account the business, legal and community aspects of open source business.

Adoption of open source software comes with several considerations and obligations: support, velocity of change, future capabilities and roadmap, some functional gaps with regard to enterprise, understanding of intellectual property and licensing models. Essentia specialises is providing this know-how, enterprise-hardened technology, hosting, management, training and support to MSMEs interested in incorporating IT into their day-day activities to become more efficient.

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Printable version | Nov 25, 2021 8:23:35 PM |

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