the trick of Open Core Cloud

This is part of Solutions Review’s Premium Content Series, a collection of reviews written by industry experts in maturing software categories. In this presentation, Instaclustr Chief Product Officer, Ben Slater, shares his perspective on the current open core vs. open source debate and offers some ways to avoid the open core cloud deceptions.

Premium SR ContentThe leaders responsible for selection of cloud technologies who will shape the fate of their businesses for years to come probably make a lot of sense in thwarting supplier deceptions. That said, some industry players rely on hubris to achieve their goals and can lead to more obscure verification than usual. Perhaps the most nefarious among them are the so-called “open-core” suppliers, who trade on the goodwill gained by pure open source technologies while offering solutions that belong to an altogether less respectable category.

True open source software keeps its promise

A 2021 report from Red Hat found that true open source software has overtaken proprietary options as the most widely used solutions by enterprises. Cloud technologies still show more than one lean towards open-sourcebecause these collaborative, community-driven solutions provide more direct access to the latest innovations and simply higher quality software, in many cases, compared to proprietary alternatives.

For all cloud-stack buyers yet beware of open source due to the counterintuitive fact that these free products outperform paying owners, the ability to easily try, experiment and prototype using freely available open source technologies should allay any worries. The mass adoption of open source by many of the largest and most successful companies provides another compelling point of proof. Proprietary software contrasts sharply with the ease of access to open source; instead, it leads to high capital expenditure early on in a project, rigid licensing that impedes usage and exploration, and real risks of vendor lock-in.

Recognize Open-Core Traps for What They Are

The misconception that a free product cannot offer more value than a paid product is the backbone of an entire “open-core” industry that enterprise cloud software buyers need to be aware. Open core vendors take freely available open source projects and add their own proprietary features and support, as well as high licensing fees. These vendors present their offerings as including all the benefits of open source, such as the ability for companies to directly own, control, and port their own code as they wish.

Too many business decision makers fall into this trap without ever seeing it coming. More often than not, the deception only becomes clear when companies try to exploit their software as if it were open source, only to finally recognize that they are locked in by both vendor and technical lock-in. The advertised hints of maintaining the benefits of open source were all fabrications (at best).

Although related to open-source, open core code is an entirely different and quite proprietary animal. It’s not portable. In many cases, the code even technically belongs to the vendor. These severe limitations are not accidental: they are the hooks that support the open-hearted business model. Ultimately, these deceptive tricks keep businesses as customers against their will. It’s no shame for business leaders who fall for these traps, which have been carefully honed to hide their dangers. Of course, open kernel vendors will tell companies that they are always free to leave – it will simply cost them the price of losing the code now fundamental to their solutions and having to start over somewhere else.

Note that open core vendors do not provide any migration support, as companies might legitimately expect from a true partner.

Open kernel vendors are desperate as their model’s demise is on the horizon

Open kernel vendors woo unsuspecting enterprise buyers by highlighting features not available in the competing pure open source releases on which their offerings are based. However, the open source communities continue and regularly add new features to these free versions. In scenarios where an open core vendor actually creates a worthwhile innovation, expect their related open source project to include the same functionality soon enough.

This ongoing process turns the tables on open-core salespeople and gives them a taste of their own medicine, leaving them feeling trapped and without good options. Over time, pure open source solutions will grab whatever worthy territory they had defined as proprietary, eliminating their supposed reason for existing. Unfortunately for enterprise software buyers, this circumstance only makes open kernel vendors more deceptive and desperate in the meantime.

Open-source communities take back the software they built

Another unfortunate practice that buyers of enterprise cloud software need to watch out for are true open source vendors who aspire to introduce proprietary business models. Companies may in fact already be using and relying on a particular open source technology, only to learn that the vendor behind the solution is moving to a proprietary license. While these vendors still pay lip service to their continued commitment to open source and change isn’t a big deal, it is a big deal. Companies that are less vigilant can suddenly find themselves locked into open circumstances.

On a positive note, open source communities are now showing their willingness to say enough and thwart vendor license change systems. A recent case of data search and analytics solution is a clear example of this. When the vendor announced its move to fewer open source licenses, the community quickly decided to go its own way, pursuing its own robust fork that would remain fully open source.

This community is now introducing its own advanced enterprise-level features, fully taking the reins of technology and winning companies over to the true open source offering. When reviewing open source technologies, enterprise software buyers should ensure that they are familiar with licensing details and should certainly understand all reported licensing shenanigans and community counterplay. .

Successful Open Source Software Adoption Means Keeping Your Eyes Open

The dangers of disappointing open core offerings and the powers of pure open source are becoming clearer to business decision makers. The task for buyers of enterprise cloud software is difficult but simple: don’t buy what open-hearted schemers are selling. In fact, by choosing the right free and open source solutions for your business, you don’t have to buy anything at all.

Ben Slate
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