Tuesday, November 28, 2006

How IBM leverages Open Source

Dana Blankenhorn recently blogged about IBMs reaction to Sun’s Java plan and their approach to open source ecosystem. I think Dana summarizes it very well. IBM believes Open Source is a great technology floor on which others and even IBM builds. But as Dana points out, it is naive to treat IBM a Solutions and Services company with rest of the software industry players who are primarily software vendors like Oracle, SAP, RedHat and Microsoft.

IBM is a very interesting player in the Open Source ecosystem and in my opinion- The Best. They understand how it works and also how to leverage it to their business goals. To their customers they are the trusted business partner and certainly portray themselves as open and flexible. They are very smart about where to contribute to get influence in open source and what/how to consume that meets their business objective. And the wonderful thing is that they had been able to pull this off by not ruffling many feathers in the community.

In the changed software landscape of open source the core competency is not “ S/W features” but “Speed” - Speed by which a firm can leverage external innovations not by copying everything but by quickly assembling products from proprietary and open components.

In my opinion IBM believes that in the long run all software is going to be free and open and hence does not have much value in itself. But the trick is to extract as much value as possible during the journey to the end state. And to do that they leverage "Pluggable Integration Architecture" a “Lego blocks” type approach that can accommodate both proprietary and open source components. Pluggable Integration Architecture are the new influence points and hence allow “opening” their existing S/W product portfolio in increments and on their terms.

Eclipse showed how powerful pluggable architecture can be and certainly owning (in other words heavily influencing) the integration platforms that allow mixing of open and closed components is core to their strategy. In 1990 IBM tools were dismal but over time by using Eclipse as a way to build common integration framework IBM was able to transform its tools business. In the beginning Eclipse was a blob below proprietary WebSphere but over time the integration framework has been meshed into proprietary code positioning them well for future.

This totally changes the competitive landscape, now if market environment changes either from competitive pressure or by availability of better open source components; IBM now has a mechanism to respond fast. IBM can very easily slot in components from open source (like Apache httpd) and also commoditize components when it sees competitive threats (like modeling tools). By getting industry to adopt open integration framework they have a ready channel to slot in proprietary pieces on top of open pieces and IBM is in position to extract value on the road towards "Total Commoditization".

Now after having standardized the integration framework for tooling and IDE, IBM is now trying to do the same for runtimes. Geronimo is a great effort in that direction. It will be interesting to see how that plays out. Already there are signs that it doing very well (Report: IBM Open Source-Based Application Server Growing Nearly Three Times Faster Than JBoss).

And regarding Java, I believe very soon IBM will get over the gloom and then it will embrace it to make it yet another Lego block in the puzzle.

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