Tag Archives: oss

Are open source projects run like a democracy or an oligarchy?


I was reading Fred Wilson’s comments recently on The Bitcoin XT Fork. In it he discussed how open source developers manage their projects.

“A group of open source core developers are a democratic system.”

I was surprised by this comment because I had never thought if it as democratic. Here are my thoughts…

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1. Indefinite tenure

Open source projects typically have a leader with indefinite tenure. He can’t be voted out. When developers are unhappy with how things are run, or how they’re evolving, they typically “fork” the project and go their own way.

That would be where Texas secedes from the union if they’re not happy with how things are run in Washington.

Also: Is the difference between dev & ops a four-letter word?

2. Inherited rights

Like an aristocracy, leaders of an open source project typically have rights inherited. This could be due to merit, or seniority. They are the ones with admin rights on the git account.

Divine rights indeed!

Related: Is automation killing old-school operations?

3. Appointments made by merit

Developers join open source projects, and move through the ranks mostly by merit. Sure there’s some back scratching, and massaging that helps too. Personality surely matters, but primarily skill at contributing code & architecture ideas are paramount.

Read: Do managers underestimate operational cost?

4. Power rests with a small elite

For sure, all people cannot vote on open source project direction. It’s a small group of elite, who are admittedly closest to it, and most knowledgable. These are the ones who control it’s direction.

Also: Is the difference between dev & ops a four-letter word?

5. Oligarchy or Aristocracy?

From wikipedia an Oligarchy is “a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people”. That sounds closest.

While open source projects do have the indefinite political tenure of an authoritarian regime, they lack the strict obedience aspect.

However, open source projects do look a bit like an Aristocracy. Aristocracy is “a form of government that places power in the hands of a small, privilged ruling class. The term derives from the Greek aristokratia meaning ‘rule of the best’. ”

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Why I Wrote the Book – Oracle and Open Source

Back in the late 90’s New York City was deep in the dot-com boom. Silicon Alley was being born, and a thousand internet startups were sprouting. Everyone was hiring, it was an exciting time to work in technology!

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Trend Spotting Circa 2000

As an independent consultant, I had the opportunity to work at quite a few startups. The technology stack was identical at almost all of them. Sun Microsystems hardware, Apache webservers, and Oracle on the backend. The database was always the sticking point, and developers struggled to get their queries right.

It was an interesting role to hold. Most career DBAs worked at large fortune 500 firms, the old stodgy kind where nothing ever changes. Few of the Oracle old guard, the kind you’d meet at User Groups or conferences, had much exposure to Linux, and they certainly didn’t trust it.

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Meanwhile in the startup scene in NYC I was seeing the cutting edge uses of the technology, with more and more shops switching to Linux and commodity hardware. There was even talk of *gasp* Oracle porting to Linux. There was a real rumor mill around all of this.

Oracle and Open Source Published – 2001

Seeing this shift towards commodity hardware, and the tremendous demand for Oracle married with open source technologies, I pitched O’Reilly and Associates with a book idea. Let’s talk about what’s happening in the trenches. How and when does Oracle – the most commercial of relational databases, work with Open Source technologies? What is in the mix? What are real firms using it for? What tools and technologies can help firms grow faster?

Related: Oracle DBA Interview questions for managers, candidates & recruiters alike

These were the questions my co-author and I sought to answer, and to judge from the response I think we did a very good job. As that push continued, Oracle eventually ported it’s enterprise database to Linux. This was a seismic shift that meant existing Oracle customers would spend a lot less on hardware, and thus have more to spend on Oracle licenses. Win-win except for Sun. The trend continued with Oracle pushing Apache into the mix as well.

Fast Forward a Decade

Now a decade later, Oracle has bought it’s former partner Sun, and in so doing owns MySQL too.

Read this: Top MySQL Interview questions for Devops, managers & recruiters

What new trends are happening? We hear an incessant drum of hype around cloud computing. In many ways the trend parallels what happened a decade ago. See our related piece a history lesson for cloud detractors. How so?

[quote]Commoditization: push towards new platforms, driven by cost. [/quote]

But this is slowed by an equally large stumbling block.

[quote]Performance: new cloud servers can’t compete with their big iron cousins. Not yet at least.[/quote]

Interested in Amazon EC2? We wrote an Intro to EC2 Cloud Deployments article which digs in deeper.

What’s Next for Datacenters

Commiditization will continue, driving costs downward. This will provide more gravity to cloud migrations for firms big and small.

Performance will improve. Cloud services like Amazon EC2 will get bigger & better, as will the all important network & disk subsystems.

Also: 5 things toxic to scalability

Big enterprises are already dipping their feet in the water with VPC technology, tying their existing datacenter to a cloud. They can grow elastically while still having feet firmly planted on the ground.

As large enterprises begin to get experience behind the wheel, it’ll chip away at the stranglehold of Oracle and the huge taxation type licensing that firms struggle with today. Where salesforce.com had a huge impact, workday.com will be even bigger.

[quote]The cloud will finally disrupt the last old guard industry – enterprise software.[/quote]

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