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The Rationale Behind an Open Source Program Office

3 Mar 2020 12:42pm, by and

VMware sponsored this post.

Suzanne Ambiel
Suzanne is the director of open source marketing and strategy for VMware. She’s been with VMware since 2011 traversing, the company landscape: from VMware View to vSAN and now, Open Source.

Editor’s note: This is Part One of VMware’s three-part “Getting to Great” series on its Open Source Program Office.

With the use of Open Source Software (OSS) on the rise both in IT architecture and software development, it’s time to take a closer look at the implications. OSS is no longer a “countercultural movement” with Linux as its standard-bearer — it’s now a trusted, essential ingredient of any software solution. IT leaders and LOB managers alike, need to know how to manage this part of their software domain. In this three-part series, we explore the benefits of the Open Source Program Office (OSPO), the core tenets of the VMware version and finally provide resources for those looking to establish their own.

So, what really changes in an enterprise data center or developer environment when OSS becomes part of the stack or toolset? For a software vendor, how does a company balance its use and contributions to OSS with its primary mission of building and selling a product or service? For a non-technology company, how and when should their limited technical talent devote their time to OSS — sometimes only tangentially related to the business at hand? For many, the answers to these questions are often left up to the individual or their manager. Absent guidelines or governance, this ad-hoc approach can limit the potential benefits of OSS and potentially expose the company to uncertain liability. Perhaps there’s a better way.

The New Stack, a media and research company, joined with the Linux Foundation TODO group to better understand how and where OSS usage is impacting software delivery, quality and efficiency. They further wanted to understand if a central organization, often called an Open Source Program Office, helped accelerate adoption, learning and compliance. To seek answers, they conducted studies two years in a row and found industry embracing OSS and evolving best practices for both the creation of and contribution to new projects. (Full disclosure: VMware co-sponsored the 2019 study.) The 2019 results culminate in the report: “Research Shows Open Source Program Offices Improve Software Practices.” (you can find the raw data in this GitHub repo.)

Rhonda Edwards
Rhonda is an open source marketer with a passion for innovative technologies contributing to the fourth Industrial Revolution. She is an electrical engineer by training. @rhondanet

The study findings show that centralizing efforts within the enterprise may indeed help not only with OSS deployment, but also compliance and the adoption of contribution best practices. Moreover, these efforts help companies take leadership roles in the OSS community at large. By maximizing the benefits and reducing risks, centralized open source program offices can enable teams to operate successfully and confidently, all while making sure community norms are respected.

In fact, a The New Stack study revealed that “81% of respondents say their [OSPO] program has had a positive impact on their company’s software practices (43% of the respondents were developers and software engineers, while at least another 36% held roles related to IT). In an open-ended follow-up question, code reviews and license-compliance processes were repeatedly cited as specific practices that were improved as a direct result of the program. Furthermore, code quality and reduced costs were often cited as specific benefits coming from improved software practices.”

Nearly four years ago, VMware made a strategic investment when launching its Open Source Program Office (OSPO). At the time, Dirk Hohndel, chief open source officer for VMware, said: “This is a long-term commitment, and it starts with becoming more active, remaining humble and creating a positive impact on the community.” Little known fact — 100% of VMware’s product portfolio touches open source in some way — so compliance is top of mind. The company not only uses open source internally and in VMware products, but also contributes upstream, participates and invests in project communities, and releases new open source projects.

It’s not all compliance — mentorship is a key aspect of VMware’s OSPO. From project selection to initial pull requests, the OSPO team provides advice and documents best practices. Today, VMware employees participate in a variety of open source communities and projects in a variety of functions. Our contributions extend well beyond code–release management, code reviews, conference chairs, technical writing and many more “chop wood and carry water” tasks that projects need to thrive. We find that teams need help refactoring code and architecting their projects in order to avoid the common pitfalls of forking and maintaining technical debt only to find they are no longer current with upstream releases. Our experience and planning save staff hours and budget waste.

Where will you find VMware in the open source community? You can find VMware open source developers in the projects and communities that matter to our customers and align to our skillsets: large, distributed and virtualized enterprise platforms and systems — from emerging IoT technologies and blockchain to the Linux kernel and Kubernetes. With the addition of Pivotal to the VMware family, developer tools, development frameworks (Spring, Spring Boot) and other technologies become part of that community.

“Innovation is part of VMware’s DNA, so it’s exciting for us to engage with the open source community, not only to learn but also to contribute our expertise and create value. The way to be influential and relevant in the OSS community is to make meaningful contributions that benefit everyone,” Hohndel said. Driving compliance, promoting community best practices, and enabling an ethos of discovery and innovation is at the core of the OSPO mandate. Under the guidance of the Open Source Program Office, open source compliance, contributions and awareness continues to thrive at VMware. Speaking at VMworld 2019, Pat Gelsinger, CEO, said: “… over the next couple of years you will see VMware emerge as one of the most open source friendly companies in the enterprise space in the industry.”

Read part two in this series on three core tenets of the VMware Open Source Program Office.

The Linux Foundation is a sponsor of The New Stack.

Feature image via Pixabay.

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