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Enterprise meets open source - Lessons from FOSDEM 2017

March 07, 2017





On February 4 and 5, I had the privilege to attend FOSDEM 2017 in Brussels: the biggest free and non-commercial event organized by and for the open source community. It was both humbling and exciting to witness such a big event, with more than 8,000 attendees taking over the city for a weekend.

There are a few key takeaways from FOSDEM I'd like to share with you, but I believe there was definitely a trait d'union, a common theme that permeated the conference (and beyond that, the whole open source movement): the world of enterprise and open source are colliding, mutually fueled by each other. Idealists and founders are finally coming together in violent agreement that OSS is the way to achieve true individual and corporate efficiency in software development. 

Check out my key takeaways below, as they are some of the concrete examples of this trend, and are also the most relevant takeaways for the Foundation and our community.


For the Kubernetes on the road to GIFEE keynote, the auditorium was packed (also because the dev rooms didn't start yet). The presentation, lightweight and entertaining, walked us through an intro to Kubernetes, led by Brandon Philips, CTO of CoreOS.

What struck me most was seeing a huge auditorium full of open source developers (aka tech lovers) excited about an enterprise-ready technology, which is backed by names like Google, Red Hat, Cisco, Intel, IBM and VMWare, all participating in a multi-vendor standardization effort led by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF).

Kubernetes has become, in less than 3 years, the de facto standard for containerized orchestration management, a field that has become more crowded by the day. So, what's their secret sauce? The big players we mentioned before? The tech leader companies, like CoreOS, Chef and Rancher, that constantly contribute and improve the platform? The community engagement driven by the CNCF? The right answer is probably a good, balanced mix of all these elements - and the Foundation is committed to find this very same level of engagement for our hosted projects.

Software Heritage

Roberto Di Cosmo and Stefano Zacchiroli, researcher and CTO at Software Heritage, respectively, gave a fascinating keynote on that they do, which is essentially open source code collection and preservation.

As an open source advocate and aficionado, I greatly enjoyed this keynote, as it exposed a challenge that is slowly invading all aspects of our industry: how do we make sure that all open source software (written and publicly shared) will be accessible and, most importantly, readable for generations to come? As a developer, it made me wonder where all the code I wrote in my life is living now, if it's properly shared and accessible, if it could be improved.

Code - especially if openly accessible - should never (and hopefully will never) die, surviving for future generations in the form of free, readable (and runnable!) human knowledge; it's everyone's responsibility to raise awareness and live up to these premises.

Free Software Foundation booth

While wandering through the crowded booths, I stumbled upon the FSF folks and had an interesting chat regarding the recently updated High Priority Free Software Projects and how it relates with the Symphony platform; we've identified a long list of areas where Symphony could be involved:

  • Decentralization/federation - as Symphony adopts a completely decentralized architecture for data and encryption keys, this gives freedom to:
    • System operators to host encrypted data and/or encryption keys on the premise of a dedicated node (aka pod) of a network.
    • End users to choose which pod to sign up for.
  • Real-time voice and video chat - Symphony audio/video features are based on WebRTC, and the engineering team is actively engaging with the community by contributing several security/encryption improvements. I had the chance to speak to the Ring team and compare it with Symphony, mostly discussing the impact of GPL versus an Apache license on community engagement. This topic would deserve a dedicated blog post in itself, but the interesting bit is that open source projects adopting different open source licenses can have completely different development, ecosystem and adoption patterns. The Foundation, via its OSS readiness initiative, aims to bring a greater understanding of open source licenses and adoption to the financial services industry.

  • Security by and for free software - at the Foundation, we've always been big fans and advocates of Linus's Law.

  • Intelligent personal assistant - the Foundation is witnessing a growing interest in integrations between personal assistants and the Symphony platform. At the same time, we reckon the challenge is then the huge amount of data collected and the lack of transparency (such as open source code) on how this data is used.


As usual, I prepared a tight agenda for myself for FOSDEM, with plans to attend several speaking sessions. However - equally as usual - the networking part of the event quickly took over, so I found myself more often than not wandering around booths and connecting with many people. I’m lucky to have met some friends (special thanks to Boris and Felipe) who were senior attendees of the event and helped me navigate through the unwritten rules of FOSDEM, sharing conversation, contacts and beers (open source, of course!).

And that's when I had my a-ha moment on a key factor behind the exponential growth of open source ecosystems over the last year: when enterprises engage in open source, they have to do it the "community" way, and they seem to have (for the most part) learned how to do it. There's an etiquette, a mature collaborative process and a meritocratic decision making process which in the past clashed with the corporate culture: but we can now see this "reconciliation" happening everywhere, often powered by the facilitation and support of open source foundations. 

So, as the lines between enterprise and open source blur every day more, with open source on a seemingly unstoppable march towards eating the world, I see our Foundation playing a key role in enabling financial services to do open source the right way.  

I'd love to hear your feedback and thoughts, and, why not, see you at FOSDEM 2018? The Symphony Software Foundation will certainly be there!

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