Jim Zemlin to Wall Street: Why open source will lead the way

Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin talks to Wall Street about tomorrow's technology and what role open source will play.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

New York, NY: At the invitation only Linux Enterprise End-User Summit held at the Convene Center Financial District, Jim Zemlin, the Linux Foundation's executive director, told an audience of several hundred Wall Street executives and top Linux developers what he sees as the future of technology.

If the combination of Wall Street bears and bulls and Linux programmers seems odd, then you haven't been paying attention. The New York Stock Exchange, New York Mercantile Exchange, and NASDAQ all run on Linux. Indeed, almost all stock exchanges now rely on Linux.


Why is this? Because, as Linux kernel contributor Christoph Lameter and a specialist in High Performance Computing (HPC) and High Frequency Trading (HFT) technologies explained, financial exchanges must execute trades as quickly as possible. In a business where a speed increased by even a few milliseconds is a competitive edge, Linux's low transaction and networking latency fits the bill.

In addition, Lameter said, starting in the late 2000s, it became clear that Linux and open source programming methods showed they could deliver new features and bug fixes faster than operating system competitors like AIX, Solaris, and Windows.

Zemlin picked up on this point in his keynote. "Linux used to be Unix's follower," said Zemlin. "Now Linux is leading in every trend." 

"Software is more important than ever and programmers are in more demand than ever." It's not just software as "software."

Zemlin added, "Hardware functions are increasingly being abstracted into software. You can see this in software defined networking (SDN), server virtualization, and the cloud. This has put a lot of pressure on hardware vendors. More and more specialist hardware has been replaced by open source software running on generic x86 boxes. This means that hardware margins are being squeezed." This trend will only continue.

As for software itself, open source is now ruling. That's because "shared development is enabling faster development with higher quality and lower costs," commented Zemlin. "This is causing the software value chain to change."

According to Gartner research, while the top tech companies are still spending tens of billions of dollars on software research and development, the smart ones are leveraging open source for 80 percent of the code and spending their money on the remaining 20 percent, which represents their program's "special sauce."

So, Zemlin added, "People now have full-time jobs managing their external open source resources." By 2020, he expects half the developers who "work" on a company's core software — e.g., Linux, MariaDB, Hadoop — will actually be working for others.

And it isn't just companies such as Linux giants Red Hat and SUSE that rely on the open source developer community. HP, Samsung, and Microsoft have full-time managers for code coming from external, open source programmers.

Yes, Microsoft, this is not Bill Gates' nor Steve Ballmer's Microsoft, it's Satya Nadella's Microsoft and Microsoft 2014 is seeing open source's virtues.

All this has led, said Zemlin, to "a software talent war. Top software talent is at an all-time premium and open source developers are demanding a premium over others." How bad is it? Zemlin quoted Stephen O'Grady, co-founder and chief analyst of Red Monk: "Developers are so valuable, we will act illegally to retain them."  As the salary-fixing case against Apple, Google, Adobe, Intel, Intuit, Pixar and Lucasfilm has already shown, they're not kidding.

At the same time, the Heartbleed OpenSSL security fiasco has illustrated what Zemlin called "a market failure in open source. It showed that two guys named Steve [Steve Marquess and Stephen Henson] were trying, and failing, to hold together the secure internet by themselves." The real fault didn't lie with them. It was that "companies don't talk to each other about security problems. Every CIO said the same thing about OpenSSL. They all thought someone else was taking care of its security problems."

Now, with the  Core Infrastructure Initiative (CII), the open source community will review under-funded but critical open source software projects such as Network Time Protocol (NTP), OpenSSH, and OpenSSL and make sure they get the money they need to ensure that such a massive security breach doesn't happen again.

While the CII now has approximately 7 million dollars, Zemlin emphasized that it needs more. At $100,000 a year for a three-year commitment, he said it was cheap insurance considering that fixing OpenSSL Heartbleed has already cost them tens of millions of dollars. Some companies still haven't fixed their Heartbleed vulnerable servers.

Besides, as Zemlin pointed out, since all technology companies will soon be using and developing open source software, making sure open source's security fundamentals are on a sound foundation only makes sense.



Editorial standards