Donnie Berkholz's Story of Data

Musical chairs with open-source business models: Opscode and Tokutek

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While everyone else is talking about API-related acquisitions (Mashery by Intel, Layer 7 by CA, now ProgrammableWeb by MuleSoft), I’m going to avoid the pack in this post and focus on some other underrated but interesting news that you should know about.

A couple of pieces of changes in direction regarding open source came out in the past few days, and they’ve gotten little coverage thus far, despite their fairly significant implications.

Gambling on traction with open source

NewSQL database provider Tokutek just went open source with its TokuDB v7 release yesterday. TokuDB is a MySQL/MariaDB storage engine based around an algorithm called fractal trees. What makes this move interesting?

For one, open-source NewSQL options are hard to come by. This is one market where open source isn’t yet table stakes, unlike NoSQL, so it does make companies stand out. VoltDB is one of very few OSS options, falling under the strongly copyleft AGPLv3. Tokutek went with GPLv2 for its engine (the same as MySQL), a slightly more permissive license in that you don’t need to provide source if it’s only available within a hosted service. Usefully, they also provided a patent license since that isn’t GPLv2’s strong point. This makes TokuDB newly interesting to service providers who want to incorporate an open-source NewSQL option into their products.

Secondly, it’s always interesting to look at the particular approach companies take to an OSS-centric model. In this case, it’s a combination of the classic models of support and proprietary add-ons (in this case tools for backup and recovery), according to SiliconAngle. As going open source with your core product isn’t a transition that’s easy to step away from, it can be useful to take a piecemeal approach, as you determine where your customers find the real value.

Maximizing the innovation window

Opscode, on the other hand, is moving in a more proprietary direction. As Adam Jacob, Chief Customer Officer, wrote in a post on the past five years:

One shift here is in the order of operations: before we wrote Chef, there was no Chef. We shipped the primitive first, then we built value (Hosted Chef and Private Chef) on top. As we move forward, we’ll shift to open sourcing new primitives after we build something cool on top of them that shows their power. [emphasis mine]

This shift to an “open-source the infrastructure” approach after you’ve already built a beautiful facade on top is a significant change to a model that’s entirely about differentiating on top (a la GitHub, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) rather than being what I would call a true open-source company. It gives Opscode a new monopoly on the time window between when they create a new piece of infrastructure and when they release the proprietary frosting on top. It also has a detrimental effect on a leading subset of users who prefer a more composeable infrastructure, as we’re seeing now in the #monitoringsucks/#monitoringlove movement, and who will now be forced to wait for the core components until Opscode finishes building something on top of them. That said, much like the value of example code in SDKs, Adam is entirely right that building useful products on top of a core component will very clearly illustrate its values and some of its use cases.

So, two transitions: one shifting toward open, another shifting more closed. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of both.

Disclosure: VoltDB is a client. GitHub has been a client. Opscode, Tokutek, Oracle (MySQL), MariaDB, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are not clients.


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