A Revolution

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Big companies have long been using popular open source projects – that’s nothing new.  What is new, however, are big companies taking on support of projects that already have a corporate sponsor.

Revolution Analytics recently found itself in this position. The corporate sponsor of the R big data language recently found out that Oracle will be offering support for R in its data center offerings.

“Oracle is just catching up,” David Smith, the company’s vice president of marketing and community, told me, when discussing their price of $23,000/core. They may persuade some of their existing customers to use R at that price, but it’s not going to keep him up at night.

Besides, Revolution has been swimming with big data sharks for years. The whole idea of R is to analyze big data.  Big companies are the target market, so it doesn’t surprise him that companies specializing in the creation and maintenance of big data are interested in his project.

So far, he reports, it’s all been good.

Netezza, now part of IBM, brought R into their data appliance. Terradata, Greenplum, even the big statistical vendors have integrated R. “The statisticians and data scientists who have learned R at university want to use the environment they’re productive in,” he said.

What has happened in the past is “we do joint sales deals. The customer buys from both the data warehousing vendor and from us. We provide integration between our software and the client’s software. As a user I can be looking at my client and have those computations done within Netezza.

“For the R community it can mean that these big companies do contribute to the R ecosystem in general,” and IBM has already contributed packages using R to the community. “The way the software grows, via commits, isn’t by modifications to the core engine, which is stable. The way it’s set up is people put in changes via packages, or modules in the Linux world. As these companies contribute more packages the project grows.

What happens with bigger organizations is more delicate, but perhaps more profitable.

Take for example Amazon.com, which recently announced it would provide support to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) users within its AWS cloud.

For Red Hat it’s all good.

AWS has been running RHEL for years, which has helped it launch Gluster virtual storage appliance technology within Amazon’s cloud. Allowing license portability between AWS and other Red Hat installations is also part of Red Hat’s larger plans for an open cloud, said Scott Crenshaw, vice president and general manager of its Cloud Business Unit.

“Organizations should be able to use all their resources,” and the AWS public cloud is going to be part of his customers’ solution, he said. He called Red Hat-Amazon relations “a very strong partnership” adding, “We’ve got many large enterprise customers using Red Hat on AWS. The usage of Red Hat on AWS is growing exponentially.”

The real question here may be for the future. It’s clear that enterprise software companies see the “halo” over open source and want a piece of that. So far, most have played nice. As the halo over open source grows, will the big companies continue to play nice? I hope so.  And if they don’t, the community will respond.


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