Sun: Open source frees CIOs (and others) from 'slavery'

Vendors can build revenues from services and subscriptions, while CIOs, CEOs and the businesses they lead are freed from the "slavery" of traditional software procurement processes, said Sun's Simon Phipps, speaking at a Sun developers conference in New York City.

In the midst of industry speculation that IBM might buy Sun for some $6.5 billion, Sun also used the event this week to announce the Sun Open Cloud Platform, a.k.a., "Sun Cloud," along with the first two services from Sun to be based on the new private and public cloud environment.

Phipps didn't directly state just how Sun expects to monetize its new cloud environment. But he did say that, through a reorganization last year, Sun's entire business model now revolves around open source, so that open source is no longer simply "a part of [Sun's] software" business.

Sun's three new divisions -- Systems, Infrastructure, and Cloud Computing -- all hinge heavily on open source software, according to Phipps, who is Sun's chief open source officer. Since moving to open source software such as OpenSolaris, he contended, Sun has generated more revenues from software than it did over the ten previous years selling its erstwhile proprietary Solaris operating environment.

Phipps also said that, at the core, all open source business models are "adoption-led," as opposed to being driven by long-standing procurement practices. Instead of buying software out of "faith" that products will meet their needs, open source adopters demand "evidence" before stepping beyond free downloads into paid subscriptions and services, according to Phipps. "We are an evidence-based generation."

Open source subscriptions typically provide access to software upgrades and commercial tools supporting larger deployments, along with indemnification.

Many services for open source software focus on support, but the quality of these services can range from phone support provided by people "who can barely speak English" to on-site support from expert open source developers, Phipps admitted.

The first two services for the new Sun Open Cloud Platform -- Cloud Storage Service and Cloud Compute Service -- are targeted at delivery this summer.

Phipps also declared during his talk that open source is freeing CIOs, CEOs, and their companies from the "slavery" of old-fashioned procurement. He added that the freedoms they're gaining are the same as those identified by open source pioneer Richard Stallman -- father of the GNU open source license -- about 25 years ago when Stallman coined the "Four Essential Freedoms" of "Free Software."

Basically, these freedoms are as follows: the freedom to run the program however you wish; to "help yourself" by studying the source code and changing it to do what you wish; to "help your neighbor" by copying the program and distributing the copies to others when you wish; and to "help your community" by publishing or distributing a modified version when you wish.

Particularly in today's deep recession, said Phipps, more companies are turning to open source software so that they can buy software on an "element-by-element" basis, instead of getting forced into procuring software packages with a lot of features they don't really need.

On the other hand, many executives these days are still being stopped from using open source by corporate policies prohibiting participation in so-called "viral" licensing contracts. But such policies are often inflicted by lawyers who hold the misconception that contracts always should be "bilateral," according to Phipps. In contrast, open source licensing contracts tend to be "multilateral," said the chief open source officer.

Meanwhile, "more and more procurement-driven [customer engagements] are ending in failure," according to the Sun executive. Phipps acknowledged, however, that there are numerous variants of open source licenses, and only some of these fall into the same general category as the GNU license.

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