Friday, August 07, 2009

The Power of Open Source Development

This article of mine appeared in the August 2009 edition of Network Computing's India edition. Please feel free to translate, rewrite and publish it in your local geo to promote the message of open source. If this gets published elsewhere, kindly send me a copy/the link so that I get some sense of how useful this is.

The Power of Open Source Development

Using open source development methodologies, John O'Hara, of JPMorgan developed a standards-based alternative to expensive proprietary middle ware

By Venkatesh Hariharan

Most literature around open source focus on using open source software. While the benefits of OSS are gaining increased recognition, some smart organizations are going a step further and applying the Open Source Development Model (OSDM) to solve problems that proved to be otherwise intractable. OSDM is based on collaboration, community and the shared ownership of knowledge and Linux is one of the best examples of how this model works.

In September 1991, Linus Torvalds released 10,000 lines of source code for Linux and licensed it under the liberal General Public License that gave anyone permission to copy, modify and redistribute the code. The only condition was that anyone making improvements to the software and redistributing the changes had to share the improvements with the rest of the community. This liberal license attracted thousand of contributors over the years who contributed their bit to improving the code base of Linux. A Linux Foundation study found that Fedora, a community Linux distribution has now grown to contain almost 204 million lines of code.

There are two reasons why Linux and other open source software have demonstrated such explosive growth. One is the growth of the Internet, which is the largest collaborative platform in the history of mankind, connecting 1.4 billion people across the world. The other is the open, participative, distributed development model of open source where users are actually encourage to contribute to the development of the software. This is in sharp contrast to proprietary software that allows very limited rights to users.

Some of the most savvy technology users are embracing the participative nature of open source software to build technologies that suit their needs. For example, John O'Hara, senior architect and distinguished engineer at JPMorgan launched AMQP (Advanced Message Queuing Protocol) as an open source project after being frustrated with developing front- and back-office processing systems at investment banks. “It seemed to me that we were living in integration Groundhog Day - the same problems of connecting systems together would crop up with depressing regularity. Each time the same discussions about which products to use would happen, and each time the architecture of some system would be curtailed to allow for the fact that the chosen middleware was reassuringly expensive,” says O'Hara.

In 2003, O'Hara embarked on a quest to standardize MOM (message-oriented middleware) technology, to enable mission critical enterprise applications to send messages to each other in a reliable and scalable manner. He decided to break from the past by using OSDM to start the AMQP project and sought Red Hat's expertise in governing open source projects. “Red Hat took the lead in establishing the legal framework for the standard; it, too, understood the issues in managing open intellectual property. The key part of doing this is to ensure that everyone contributing has the authority to do so and that there is a paper trail from every potential owner of IP through to the group effort, and that the intent to share is clear even in draft revisions of specifications. The result was a contract that clearly committed the members of the working group to promote unrestricted open middleware through AMQP.” For developing the software, O'Hara tapped iMatix, a boutique European development house that had clearly demonstrated a commitment to open source.
The AMQP project is a perfect example of what Prof. Eric Von Hippel, Professor of Innovation at MIT's Sloan School of Management calls, “user-driven innovation.” In his book, Democratizing Innovation, Von Hippel says that open source software projects are exciting examples of complete innovation development and consumption communities run by and for users. Today, users like Credit Suisse, Deutsche Börse Systems, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase Bank Inc, the TWIST consortium and others partner with IT leaders like Cisco, Red Hat, Microsoft and others in the AMQP consortium.

Ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. AMQP today has several implementations in open source and proprietary software. Imatix built an open-source implementation called, OpenAMQP. The beta version went live in 2006 and by the following year it was supporting 2,000 users on five continents and processing 300 million messages per day. Today, there are several open source and proprietary implementations of AMQP, including OpenAMQ, the original open source implementation. In a powerfully interconnected world, the open source development model used to build AMQP demonstrates the the power—and value—of collaborative software development.