Why We Need a New Type of Open Source Event

July 09, 2019

Embracing a New Type of Event


I speak to more and more enterprise customers who see open source as the best route to drive innovation and agility while managing their operational expenditures. The recent Red Hat “State of Enterprise Open Source” study confirms this trend, but the challenge for enterprise end users is that they do not necessarily have the time, skills or inclination to engage with the community open source model. Traditionally, it is why the open source community has been wary of anyone unwilling to contribute directly to the development of the source code. However, the time has come for a different approach, which embraces the needs of community members and enterprise end users; and this is most clearly symbolised by fresh thinking around the events we run. I am calling for a new type of open source event, one which is much more focused on the customer, rather than the development of the code. This is essential if we are to capitalise on the heightened interest in open source and it can be done without compromising the values of the community model. If we don’t learn to embrace a new type of event we will limit the potential of open source in the enterprise. For some purists that may be a good thing, but I would see it as a wasted opportunity.


A Pragmatic Reponse


Making this statement is provocative, but it is important that the open source community continues to challenge itself to acknowledge the world around it. It is completely understandable that the recent debate around cloud service providers (CSPs) and their use of open source has led to heated exchanges.  A more pragmatic response would be to acknowledge it is a trend and discuss what it means for open source models moving forward without portraying as a scene from Game of Thrones where good battles evil. The reality is enterprise users want to adopt open source, but they like the convenience of packaged applications. If we, the open source community, are to find a way forward rather than treat the presence of CSPs as an existential threat, we should be creating events where we can work directly with end users to help us understand what opportunities this brings for us.   


If you look at the range of events available today, they are divided into distinct categories around product development, strategy and customers. The open source community events are very much geared towards product development, understandably because their priority is to maintain and progress the source code of an individual project. On the other end of the spectrum strategy events include the likes of Oracle OpenWorld and the Gartner Symposiums. These are often very much “tell and listen” events where delegates receive the latest strategy and roadmap direction from vendors or industry analysts. They are useful for planning and long-term IT strategy, but they do not necessarily fulfil the needs of customers, who must understand how to implement and maintain technologies in the most secure and reliable manner possible. User Group conferences address this demand for vendor specific technologies. I’m currently wrapping up a series of Oracle User Group events where I am presenting and participating and it is very clear this format offers real value to enterprise users.


And this is where the opportunity lies for open source communities. Customers, particularly enterprise ones, have been underserved by user focused open source conferences. We are seeing some emerge now; EnterpriseDB supported Postgres Vision in the US again this year, which was a mix of strategy, technical and customer sessions. In Europe, we just organised Enterprise Postgres Day and we also sponsored Postgres on the Beach in Ibiza. These events are valuable, because they place greater emphasis on customers and end users.  However, I would suggest there is still more work the open source community could do in this space.

Why Is This Important?

Why is this important?  Two reasons.  Firstly, when you attend a User Group event focused on a particular commercial software platform there are clear expectations around the content that delegates will get. The mix of keynote speakers, technical sessions, Q&As with experts and training schedule give attendees the opportunity to hear from their peers and independent industry commentators. Those listening to these sessions are responsible for running mission-critical applications that their businesses rely on.  When they attend such a gathering they need to know they will leave better off and able to ensure their IT infrastructures will be more reliable and secure. Hearing how other customers implemented a particular technology, how they dealt challenges and what best practice guidance they can offer is invaluable.  Open source can further extend its foothold in the enterprise if we cater for these requirements. It will be more attractive if we run these events, because we can bring together a broader eco-system of technology providers than the vendor specific user event. It will bring together different vendors with solutions based on that particular open source platform, rather than just one vendor.  This is far more useful for end users – and give them greater choice - than simply hearing the sales pitch of one vendor.

The second reason is more contentious. If we agree that expanding the footprint of open source in the enterprise is important to maintaining the growth of open source, then we have to accept that many enterprise end users do not want to engage with open source product development. They are happy to use the software, but they do not want to contribute to the source code. It is why there is a ready market for the cloud service providers, for instance. However, if we can get the customer focused events right this will create new opportunities for open source communities. There are relative merits and strengths to each approach, which will be exposed more clearly in such a customer forum. Longer-term, these customer centric events will only serve to deepen ties between enterprise end users and open source projects, potentially leading the users to become more engaged and contributing to the projects.


Embracing a Broader Spectrum of Event Types


In the past my colleague Bruce Momjian has argued that different events serve different purposes. I’d say the user group format is valuable because it’s aimed at end users who want to know more about the software, even if they don’t intend to contribute to the code. Surely, if we want to broaden the appeal of open source in the enterprise, it makes sense to offer similar formats and experiences for enterprise users wanting to understand open source? The prospects for open source in the enterprise are very positive right now, but we need more user-centric events if we are to capitalise on its progress into the enterprise.  I would encourage communities to find a way to engage with such end user events, as it will have real benefits for open source. It will not compromise the integrity of open source projects, because community-focused events will continue to perform a vital function. Together, embracing a broader spectrum of event types and formats can only have a positive impact.


*This article first appeared in Computing, 16 May 2019.

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