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Openness is the future of IT. Here's why.

Openness is the future of IT. Here's why.

At a glance

  • This piece explores three pillars of openness: open standards, open platforms, and open ecosystems.

  • Openness will help companies avoid vendor lock-in and execute in an interconnected world.

  • Openness is ultimately fueling an acceleration of innovation with businesses now able to tap community-wide development.

  • Openness has become a critical requirement when choosing a software provider — as important as security and reliability.

Open standards, open platforms, and open ecosystems are your key initiatives to achieve business wide innovations.

In 1974, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn — the two pioneering fathers of the Internet — shared their design of the Internet openly in the publication IEEE Transactions on Communications. “Our design was intended to be available anywhere, to everyone, with no barriers,” Cerf said recently. “Openness was important from the get-go.”   

Cerf and Kahn’s Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) solved the problem of connecting balkanized networks by enabling an “inter-networking of networks.” Their work became the foundation of the Internet. But even these pioneers may not have predicted the impact their early commitment to openness would have on software development nearly a half-century later. Today, openness is what allows IT teams to execute effectively. But what exactly do we mean by openness, and why does it matter?

“Openness” goes beyond open source (making source code freely available and modifiable). It encompasses a whole new approach to IT, ranging from open interfaces — systems intentionally designed to play well with other systems—to entire open ecosystems of developers, businesses, and code.

Even more important, though, is its business impact. Openness enables businesses to tap into three crucial pillars of modern IT:

  • Interoperability - Business value today comes from the coordination of diverse systems on and off premises. Systems should be able to exchange information openly regardless of where they reside and what technology is used. Properly managing the interactions between systems is critical to interoperability. 
  • Portability - Cloud providers that operate infrastructure should not dictate what companies do “up the stack” with their applications. Through open source and open interface approaches, companies retain control and avoid being “locked in” to any particular vendor.
  • Innovation - The highest rates of innovation in our industry come from open ecosystems, in which a community of developers improves code by addressing different use cases across different industries.

The open IT model is new. In the old world, enterprise software developers built (or bought) applications that were closed off from the world behind the company firewall. This closed model led to a host of challenges: integration issues between systems and applications, migration issues when switching vendors or platforms, and limited time and resources allocated to innovation. Open models reverse these challenges, enabling IT to tap specialized services best suited to solving business-critical problems, wherever they reside.  

Let’s take a closer look at the business implications of an open IT model.

Interoperability enables businesses to add value from any system, anywhere

The cloud’s essential value lies in its ability to connect people, tools, and systems — in real time, from any Internet-enabled device. In order to realize this value, businesses must use systems that can talk to and work with other systems — in a word, all systems must be interoperable. Without interoperability, you’re stuck in the old IT model of developing everything in-house or buying whatever a vendor puts on the shelf. But once you have interoperability, you can customize your IT stack to address precisely the right business need.

The Future of the Cloud is Open - Interoperability

Consider a modern ride-hailing app accessed by millions of people from their smartphones. In a single trip, the application taps rich functionality exposed by different providers whose services are distributed across multiple clouds. The mapping and directions functionality making up most of the user interface can embed Google Maps or another popular mapping service. Payments can be handled easily by calling providers like Stripe or Paypal, right from the app. Meanwhile, the app is able to match drivers and passengers in real time by calling internal systems maintained by the ride-hailing company itself—whether those internal systems reside on-prem behind the company firewall, or on one or more platforms in the public cloud.

Interoperability among highly diverse systems is what makes this kind of value creation through aggregation possible. Applications are able to communicate regardless of where they reside or what technology they use. Standards-based Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) enable this interoperability by exposing business functionality and data openly for other applications to consume.

APIs have a profound role to play

in bridging today’s legacy back-

ends with tomorrow’s cloud-enabled

environments where the most

valuable innovation is available

on tap, just an API call away.

Proper management of these services and their APIs has grown in importance, directly impacting project success. How do you ensure security when calling services hosted by multiple vendors in the public cloud—and for services you expose that surface important transactions and data needed by other applications? How do you properly test myriad cloud services whose APIs expect very specific inputs prone to change over time?

How do you do proper version control to ensure a stable environment for applications that depend on you? For your APIs with the highest request volumes, how can you save on data lookup and retrieval costs? Experienced cloud providers have API management practices that address these issues, drawn from their experience managing some of the most popular services on the Internet receiving billions of requests per day.

Enterprise applications today deliver impact by tapping existing systems behind the company firewall, while taking advantage of the best services available in the cloud. The most forward-looking companies expose their own APIs for the broader cloud ecosystem to consume. In the process, these companies pave the way for creating entirely new business models from their systems and their data.

Open source and open interfaces protect companies against vendor lock-in

While APIs enable the open exchange of information between systems, today’s applications themselves also require a higher level of flexibility and portability. From a Harvard Business Review Analytic Services study of IT managers: “Companies run into integration problems as they try to migrate workloads from one cloud to another, just as can happen when migrating on-premises applications between platforms. This is especially true when systems use proprietary standards not designed for multi-vendor integration in the first place.” IDC indicates more than 80 percent of enterprises plan to commit to hybrid cloud architectures by 2017; greater than 60 percent will use open-source foundations for cloud integration in the same timeframe.

Going forward, developers and

organizations will reject

platforms that restrict them in

arbitrary ways — including vendor


Approaches that force a technology direction upon organizations will also be rejected; such practices inhibit the flexibility needed to meet changing project requirements. The use of open-source software to shield against vendor lock-in has gained considerable traction in recent years with the rise of containers and container orchestration software. 

Open source, fully portable container-based platforms like Kubernetes allow organizations to write their most critical applications and deploy the same code on-prem and onto any public cloud platform, unaltered. In addition, the well-known open-source benefits of transparency and modifiability apply, shifting control away from vendors and into organizations’ hands.

Having an open strategy means that organizations explicitly account for their dependency on proprietary technology. For example, if an application depends on a proprietary service, there should be no contractual or technical reason the application can’t simply switch to an alternative service if the current one no longer meets business needs (or if the vendor acts against customer interest).

The Future of the Cloud is Open - Open Ecosystem

Proactive use of open-source software is one hedge; another approach that can be equally effective in keeping a company in control of its own destiny has an “easy in, easy out” quality that allows companies to come and go as they please. In this model, data and code brought to the platform respect de facto standards. This means there are no vendor-specific or proprietary quirks that make it difficult to move on or off the platform. Portability is paramount: if you need an escape hatch to move your data or your application off the platform, then migration as-is to an alternative platform should be straightforward. In addition, the ability to migrate with most of your code intact improves productivity by helping IT teams avoid wastefulness and the need to reinvent the wheel.

Open ecosystems allow businesses to tap community wide innovation

The final pillar of openness allows enterprises to harvest the tremendous rate of innovation achieved by today’s open-source ecosystems. Take the example of Linux, which is no stranger to the enterprise. Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of the Linux Foundation, reminds us that Linux is the most successful software in history. Zemlin illustrates the remarkable rate of innovation around the Linux ecosystem: 10,800 lines of code added, 5,300 lines of code removed, 1,875 lines of code modified — every single day. “There is no organization on earth that can independently keep up with the pace of development that’s represented by modern open source processes,” Zemlin says. He argues that organizations and developers who don’t harvest this shared innovation will be unable to compete.

The Future of the Cloud is Open - Open Ecosystem

Open-source ecosystems — projects like Linux, Android, WebKit, Docker, Kubernetes — have a positive ripple effect across the industry. These kinds of projects have critical adoption from which modern enterprises can immediately benefit. Such projects have a high rate of continuous improvement due to ongoing contributions from an ecosystem of developers that span across organizations.

The future of cloud is open

Open approaches enable the free movement of applications, data, and ideas. This article presented qualities of open software development as critical in the enterprise—as important to meeting business objectives as reliability and security in the cloud era. We looked at a future marked by cross-system, cross-cloud interoperability, shielding against vendor lock-in by building on top of open platforms, and the opportunity to benefit from high rates of innovation through open ecosystems. Like Cerf and Kahn’s TCP standard at the foundation of the Internet, open approaches to IT place end-user needs before the interests of any specific vendor. The applications you build higher up the stack — and the accompanying data — are yours, free to move to where it makes most business sense. The future of cloud is open.