Guest Post: Patrick McGarry on Open Source Disruption

by Ostatic Staff - Feb. 04, 2013

The ApacheCon NA 2013 conference is coming up. The event takes place 24 February - 2 March 2013, at the Hilton Portland and Executive Towers, in Portland Oregon. Registration for the event is now open, and you can find more about the conference, and registration here.

In conjuction with ApacheCon NA 2013, OStatic is running a series of guest posts from influencers in the Apache community.  The first in the series ran here. In this second post in the series, Patrick McGarry (shown), a community manager for Inktank, the consulting services company that helps users to learn and deploy Ceph, discusses open source and disruption.

Disruptive Innovation Through Open Source
By Patrick "scuttlemonkey" McGarry

When we look at disruptive technological advancement, it's typically measured as a function of what the market will bear.  In order for one product to succeed it needs to be successful enough to create a new market or displace the existing market.  This results in (usually) a 1:1 substitution.  With the advent of Open Source technologies we have been able to see additional benefits; as technology was displaced, a good portion of the previous investment was freed up for other uses.  This multiplicative investment is one of the key factors in why Open Source technologies continue to enter the market in place of mature, established solutions.

The most recognizable example of this would be the introduction of Linux over the previous generation of prohibitively expensive Unix solutions, but there are many more recent examples as well.  Just last year we saw Encyclopedia Britannica close their doors after 244 years of publication, as a result of Wikipedia’s lack of price, unlimited size, and instant (open) updates. While Wikipedia is less of a capitalistic example, depending largely on donations, there are just as many companies that have made their mark with Open Source technology by taking on existing proprietary solutions.  MySQL, Apache, Firefox, and Android are all great examples of disruptive technologies that have found a place in the broader market and continue to thrive.

This disruptive Open Source trend has most recently set its sights on the cloud computing market.  With projects like CloudStack vying for dominance over existing IaaS platforms, the component pieces and integrated systems are finding themselves on the cusp of transforming several markets all at once.  Ceph, in particular, is one of these interesting pieces that plugs into both CloudStack and OpenStack.  It has the potential to transform the storage industry just like the use of commodity hardware transformed the cloud industry.  Built on the idea of using commodity hardware, Ceph's innovative approach to reliability and near-infinite scalability delivers a storage platform unlike any other.

Of course, one of the key advantages to being an Open Source project is that you get to hold on to values like "doing good things for humanity."  Businesses like Inktank (where most of the core Ceph devs work), 42on, and Hastexo are able to build business models around Ceph, but the project itself was created in a way that defies corporate ownership and guarantees perpetual community control.  In this, Open Source projects evoke a certain "Robin Hood" flair.  They can engage in aggressive reshaping of an industry by creating a disruptive technology that takes money from large, closed companies and gives it back to the end-users for redirection into their own development.

The storage industry is one of the last remaining infrastructure areas without a dominant Open Source technology.  This, coupled with the incredibly expensive and closed nature of existing storage giants, make it particularly ripe for a redistribution of wealth.  This multiplicative investment can be extremely liberating for a company and beneficial to the community-at-large.  While there are many contributing factors, some attribute a good portion of the dot-com boom to R&D budgets that were bolstered from the use of Open Source tech.  Given the current and projected amounts of money spent on storage alone, having a disruptive transformation could result in quite a few technological advancements.  Regardless of whether or not storage, cloud computing platforms, or associated technologies are supplanted by Open Source alternatives, the market will surely be redefined as a result of the battle.


Patrick McGarry is a community manager for Inktank, the consulting services company helping users to learn and deploy Ceph.  An experienced community manager, gamer, mischief maker, and all around geek, Patrick spent five years writing and managing Slashdot under the nomme du keyboard 'scuttlemonkey.'  Patrick enthusiastically helps companies to understand and adopt Open Source ideals and continues to be a strong advocate of FOSS on the desktop and in the enterprise. He still hates writing these bios.