We caught up with some of the leading thinkers, contributors and users of Open Source at NodeConf EU to discuss the role of Open Source & Node.js in digital transformation when it’s right for enterprises to join the evolution and why we believe the time is now to get involved.

Let’s talk a little about the growth of enterprise adoption of Open Source?

Paul: We’ve been involved in Open Source and Node.js for over 7 years or so. Everybody in the community was deep into it but now a lot of enterprises are coming into space. What was a small group 5 or 6 years ago where contributors, users and maintainers were all same people has now expanded?  Now we have users and enterprises that are not directly connected with people who are building and maintaining. Getting these groups connected is one of the key challenges for Open Source this year in order to benefit from the great opportunity as Node and Open Source mature. There are some big signs of that in the industry and amongst some of the big players with changes that are driving adoption of Open Source.  If you look at Azure: Open Source is one of the biggest drivers behind Azure and Node.js is one of the biggest drivers behind Open Source on Azure = that’s a fantastic shift. Open Source has truly arrived and in a big way. We now need to help it become sustainable by connecting those that build and maintain Open Source with Enterprises looking to use Open Source.

Gordon: We are working with more and more clients that are using Open Source to deliver digital transformation projects.  Node.js is a big part of our technology stack when we’re developing what are highly customer-focused customer-centred design products.

Todd: We’ve seen the benefit and power Open Source can bring to the world. It’s a pivotal point in what’s going on in hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud.  About 20% of folks have figured out how to get into cloud, oftentimes moving existing systems into the cloud as their first steps…but there’s 80% left to go.  I’m very excited about it. Open Source is something that’s in IBM’s DNA from early days. Since we made a billion dollar investment in Linux this has really kicked things off in making Open Source available to the enterprise.  It then continued to snowball as we saw the benefit and power of what Open Source could bring to the world.

Ahmad: In today’s world, the adoption of Open Source software in the enterprise is a key growth and transformational factor for a lot of companies. There are so many facets changing from where we were as an industry 10-15 years ago to where we are today.  The biggest leading indicator of why Open Source is valuable to enterprises is in the areas of team members. You’ve much opportunity to scale and grow your business when your own developer community has a bigger community umbrella around it.

What value does it bring to the enterprise?

Todd: We’ve learned as an industry now that we don’t need to compete on plumbing but on the services and at least create interoperability to protect clients from vendor lock-in.  The client feels it is much safer as they have freedom of action. We feel strongly about open governance, we want to see projects be truly open and provide the ability for any contributor to be a maintainer, to commit the code and to be part of the decisions that happen with it too.  Often times we see single vendors control everything that goes on but that’s not a way to have long-lived projects. We believe in truly Open Source and operating collaboratively.

Gordon: From a technology perspective, we’re working with clients co-creating and designing web applications, platforms and solutions at scale – and Node fits.  We need something very much attuned to a lean agile production process, we need a team that is able to be highly productive and so it’s part of that ecosystem. The projects we have done with this new technology stack and that also use newer architectural approaches have been very successful.

Ahmad: You also have a better opportunity for hiring people because the Open Source community is a lower barrier of entry for people to get in and be productive on Day 1. In today’s world, the open source adoption of software in the enterprise is a key growth factor for a lot of companies based on this.  There is also the cost factor & long-term outlook. Within the proprietary software application world, you need professional training and certification which carries a cost,  And you need a licensed software to build upon. That is not sustainable for fast-growing industries we have today where all businesses must be technology-focused.  Needing developers to drive evolution is key. The reality is the value you get from contributing and adapting to Open Source in business: lower cost, higher trust along with greater society and community impact.

What factors do organisations need to consider – how do they know if it’s right for them?

Paul: If you look at some of the early entrants like Netflix and Paypal, they changed how they did things completely. It wasn’t just bringing in Node or talented developers, they changed the way they were building the code, the process around it, the architecture, the systems.  So we try and help enterprises with that change as it’s a big thing to take on, and it’s not a one size fits all. What works in Netflix doesn’t work for the average enterprise – there are differences in scale and in what they are dealing with in terms of industry. But we are helping more and more businesses with those challenges in a way that they can deliver their vision and make their efforts sustainable.

So that gives us a sense of the value that Open Source brings to the enterprise. What value does enterprise bring to Open Source?

Todd: Enterprises really contribute quite a bit of the resource that goes into Open Source these days.  That contribution to the community really is making a difference. The community get additional resources that they need.

Ahmad: For TELUS, one of the key foundational messages is we give where we live.  We enable our team members to volunteer time to the community. In terms of the software industry, the Open Source aspect is key.  Enterprises can enable their people to contribute, to become community members and active participants. The first step is that organisations need to realise their business relies on this.

The idea of companies having a moral obligation and individuals having a professional responsibility to be adopters and contributors to Open Source is central to the future software industry. A lot of these companies have more resources at their disposal to help evolve the Open Source ecosystem and the community itself.  It can surface in many different ways but what Open Source needs the most are contributors and collaborators.

But there are challenges right?

Todd: Right now, clients are struggling with how do I consume Open Source, how do I contribute to it and what kind of programme can I set up internally. Developers are central to this, it’s an exciting time for them!

Paul: Many enterprises don’t yet have a way of getting to grips with all these new technologies and changes and all that is expected of them.  With Open Source, the main challenge is in how enterprises approach it. Often, they give a relatively junior developer the toolkit to play with, given its low barrier to entry.  That developer can typically outperform a large java or .net team: they have no technical debt to deal with and they have a massive amount of Open Source modules to work with and plug together.  They can move really fast and look like a genius. However, this early success leads to spaghetti architecture, difficult to maintain code and issues in production systems.

So how do they overcome these challenges?

Paul: The answer is to leverage in-house expertise that understands the enterprise domain and build a team based on a core of experienced Open Source engineers. The community is a great way to find this core talent – alternatively working with a company like NearForm can also help kick start this digital transformation process.  There is typically an inflection point when a system reaches about a million users, it tends to require a bit of perform-tuning so, in many cases, we help folks with things like that. We work with them on their architecture set-up. They’ve typically come from a world where they had a reference architecture, a blueprint they could touch and feel and use, and now they have to work in a microservices world.  We help people adapt to this world and make the right decisions at all different levels including the cultural change and process change that goes with it.

What advice would you give to Enterprises starting out with Open Source?

Todd: First thing is to overcome fears about being part of Open Source.  The licensing and work that’s being done to make it safe to participate is important to look at.  You’re relatively safe in what you are going to do, contribute to and maintain. Your people need to get in there and start small – make small contributions:  ‘chopping wood, carrying water’ as I like to call it, Become involved. Work with one of the main contributors to get your work recognised. It’s a lot of fun and a good community to work in.

Paul: Yes, start with something small, one bite at a time. And remember it’s more than the software itself.  You’re going to have a cloud strategy, and hopefully trying to make your development process more agile and lean. This will involve building really short feedback loops so that business can actively take part and inform development., To achieve this you need to shorten the time to get an idea from code on a developer’s laptop into a staging environment. This way the product owner and business owner can actually see and give feedback quickly so development is guided the right way – that’s how you win. So do this with something small first, get it all working and get the skill sets involved early. To get the most out of these technologies, you need someone who understands how to structure a front-end, back-end, render server side, set up continuous delivery pipelines and get the environment in place properly. If you don’t have the people that know this, get some help because it can be quite painful if you get it wrong.

At NearForm, we are one of the largest, international contributors to Node Core and home to some of the world’s thought leaders in Node.js, We are perfectly positioned to offer exceptional, commercially supported Open Source services.  

Paul Savage is available on LinkedIn –  connect with him today to talk about Open Source for your enterprise.

Photo credit: Chris Lawton

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