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Open Source

Chef Opens Its Code Base, Says Goodbye to Open Core

Apr 2nd, 2019 10:03am by
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As myriad companies search for sustainable licensing models amid the debate about open source in a cloud world, automation tool vendor Chef has announced it is going all-in on open source.

While it has had a mix of open source and proprietary software, it’s making its software and any additions going forward open source with Apache 2 licensing.

In a blog post today by Adam Jacob, Chef co-founder, the headline reads: “Goodbye Open Core — Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish.” The noteworthiness is in the rejection of the open core model that several commercial open source companies offer such as GitLab, Elastic and Redis. The issue that Chef faces comes with the challenges all software companies face. Open core was supposed to serve as a way to allow a company like Chef to be open source for everyone but with a proprietary model for commercial purposes. It’s also apparent the open core model is now elevating to a new status with the recent news of Amazon Web Services’ own open source distribution of Elasticsearch. The news has had its ramifications, raising issues about AWS’s role in ingesting up open source software and then commoditizing it by wrapping its own service around the free software.

Chef is the first in recent memory to reject the open core model for the software it distributes.

“Good riddance to bad rubbish,” wrote Jacob in his post.

The value for Chef is now in open source software and how it plans to develop a community with the people contributing and developing a model that is built on a subscription service that will package its open source software.

“We believe in open source software, and we believe strongly that collaboration is the right way to build software for users in the market. So the best way to build our software is to collaborate with the people who actually use it every day. The easiest way to do that is through open source software development,” said Corey Scobie, senior vice president of product and engineering at Chef.

That includes its automation visibility tool Automate, app builder Habitat, security and compliance tool Inspec, infrastructure automation tool Infra and developer tool Workstation.

At the same time, it will be focusing a tightly knit combination of the projects in a subscription package called the Chef Enterprise Automation Stack.

“There is no question that open source can facilitate the use of software by individuals and companies that are also interested in improving it and tweaking it for their needs,” said 451 Research analyst Jay Lyman, who called the move a return to Chef’s roots.

“This may help Chef to continue growing its open source ecosystem while better serving its enterprise customers, which have generally taken a greater role in open source software development and communities.”

The company had found was there was inconsistency across the projects in the way it was treating and governing the projects, Scobie said.

“There [also] was a challenge for customers to understand what the value of having a relationship with Chef was versus the value of just using the software on its own in a vacuum of having a relationship with Chef. We just want to make that much, much clearer,” he said.

“What you see going on in the open source world right now is a lot of people sort of grasping at straws trying to figure out the right combination of business model and software development model,” he said. “For us, it’s very clear, the business model is simple: The customers that want to have a relationship with Chef already see the value of having that relationship. The collaborators we see in the community are people who have a similar problem and want to try and solve that problem together. For us, it all comes together in some seamless loop.”

The Chef team’s mantra of expressing infrastructure, security policies and application lifecycle as code is the basis for Enterprise Automation Stack. It calls adherents, which it calls the Coded Enterprise, make up a majority of Chef’s user base.

“What we’ve found through working with customers is that whether you adhere to that through the products you choose or as a foundational strategy of your IT, belief in that philosophy is what gets you to better velocity as an organization,” Scobie said.

Enterprise Automation Stack will provide subscribers a turnkey package, support, indemnity, assurance and curated content.

He calls these expressions as code are key to collaboration among developers, security and operations personnel.

“When you stick them in a room together, they don’t speak the same language. They don’t have the same objectives. When you give them an artifact that is the indisputable source of their collaboration, it’s much easier for them to align and work together and manage all of their different objectives into that workflow. We believe part of achieving velocity in the organization is establishing their trust in code, he said, adding that an artifact like version control can be the collaboration point where developer, security, operations come together,” he said.

Flipping the code to open source enables Chef to leverage a rich community of developers to enhance and create new features while Chef can focus on evangelizing the market, according to analyst Mark Bowker at Enterprise Strategy Group.

“The bottom line is that Chef now has the potential to improve its capabilities with the help of the open source community while ratcheting up the volume in the market and focusing on business execution,” he said.

Alex Williams contributed to this story.

Chef and GitLab are sponsors of The New Stack.

Feature image: “Shopping in Cabramatta” by Owen Prior. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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