Hadoop creator: Proprietary software platforms are finished

Doug Cutting, Hadoop creator and Apache Software Foundation chairman, tells ZDNet why he believes the days of businesses using proprietary OS and software platforms are numbered.

The days of businesses relying on locked-down operating systems and platforms tightly controlled by commercial organisations are numbered, according to Hadoop creator Doug Cutting.

Proprietary software platforms put businesses at the mercy of the platform vendor, often locking them into accepting regular price hikes, Cutting told ZDNet.

Cutting's own baby, the open source platform Apache Hadoop, is fast becoming the standard platform for big data analytics, with tech giants such as EMC and IBM releasing their own Hadoop distributions and adoption by firms growing by 60 percent annually according to research by IDC.

Hadoop creator Doug Cutting. Photo: Tim Bray (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:TimBray) under licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The success of Hadoop has reinforced Cutting's opinion that firms and developers will shift away from proprietary towards open source platforms.

"I don't think people are going to want a platform technology to be proprietary ever again. I think we moved past that. Linux might have been the first to make that point and I think we're emphasising that here [with Hadoop]," said Cutting, now chief architect at Hadoop software and services company Cloudera.

Cutting believes that what will kill business demand for proprietary platforms is the threat of lock-in, where a customer is dependent on a vendor for products and services such that they cannot switch to another vendor without suffering substantial costs. These costs often stem from a lack of interoperability between a platform or application a business is using and a competing product they want to switch to.

Overcoming this lack of interoperability can require extensive work in transforming data formats, rewriting custom software around new APIs and other tasks.

"Users don't want to have someone who owns their fate. If you own the software that a business is dependent upon you can change the pricing arbitrarily and that's frightening to businesses," Cutting said.

Building platforms around open standards and open-source software not only reduces the threat of lock-in for businesses, he said, but frees developers to build an ecosystem more rapidly and at less expense than on a proprietary alternative.

"If you make that central point open source there isn't a choke hold of one company profiting from every transaction and taxing, it lets it grow more freely," he said.

It's these advantages of open-source platforms over cloud-source that leads Cutting to believe companies will turn against proprietary platforms. He sees the future of proprietary software in the enterprise as lying further up the software stack, not in the platforms that applications run upon, but in the applications running on the platform.

"I don't think we're done with proprietary software but people are thinking a more reasonable place for it is at the fringes rather than at the centre," he said.

"At higher levels there's less risk of lock-in. You're not locked into it in the same way, because all your business logic, all the applications are written in terms of the open source platform."

Cutting is also chairman of the Apache Software Foundation, a non-profit whose mission is to "provide software for the public good" and provides organisational, legal, and financial support for a broad range of over 140 open source software projects.