Forget that software is eating the world. By now, it’s a foregone conclusion.

But CEOs who address their communities at conferences keep jumping up onto stages and quoting Marc Andreessen, who first made the observation in 2011, as if it were breaking news.

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst said it in his keynote at the Red Hat Summit as well — though he drove the point home explaining how today’s basic car holds over 10 million lines of code, how Uber is a transportation company that owns no vehicles, how Airbnb rents lodging without owning real estate, how Facebook is a content company that creates no content … you get the idea.

“Value is moving from the owners of physical assets to people who can build, augment, and combine information,” he said.

“We’re at the dusk of the industrial revolution and the dawn of the data revolution,” said Whitehurst.

It Takes a Village

Innovation will determine how value is created, he added. No single organization can do it alone. It’s hard to innovate in a silo.

You have to harness the power of community, it seems, to bring people and technology together to solve enterprise and business problems.

And while writing code and paying employees to write code, which is then freely shared without charge with anyone who wants to use it, may seem counterintuitive, it’s how value is being created.

Yay Open Source

It’s open source. That’s Red Hat’s religion. Consider its mission statement: “To be the catalyst in communities of customers, contributors, and partners creating better technology the open source way.”

“No single organization can predict the future of technology — but a coalition of us can build it,” said Whitehurst.

It’s an idea that other, younger, companies and almost an entire generation of developers share. And it’s embraced by companies like DataStax whose employees contribute as much as 70 percent of the code to Apache Cassandra — but that’s not the big deal — over 100 developers, most of whom don’t work at DataStax, have contributed at least one line of code to the project.

The belief is that because anyone can contribute to these projects, the ideas feeding development will influence and that the quality of the code will improve, making the software better and potentially more useful to everyone. It's an approach that has been embraced by Internet companies ranging from Google and Facebook to Twitter and Square. They've all donated technologies they built internally and flipped them into open source projects where they can be further developed and adopted by anyone.

Ditto for EMC, VMware spinoff Pivotal which open sourced all, or almost all, of its entire big data stack and contributed its once proprietary code to the Apache Hadoop community.

Learning Opportunities

Just the Beginning

But it’s not just software companies who are embracing the open source way. There’s also General Electric and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of the Cloud Foundry project. These are case and points in which not only “Software is eating the world” is true, but in which “open source is eating software” as well.

These companies contribute code to open source projects, of which there are thousands according to Whitehurst. “Open source is "not about the license. It's about the participation," he said.

And for companies it’s also about being able to be agile, to experiment, and to learn from not only their own, but others’ experimentation

Whitehurst’s evangelism did come with a word of warning, however.

Now that open source is becoming “the way to go” and mainstream, steering clear of posers is a must. There’s a difference between “license-only open source” and true open source it seems. In a license-only scenario there are no or limited community contributions, which confines not only its "openness" but also the inherent value that a community of contributors can offer.

At the end of the day, end users with business problems, analysts, engineers and dev create the value of open source ops engineers who work to solve them, members of open source projects who refine code, dev/ops pros.

We’re working and living in an age of disruption. You can be a disruptor or be disrupted. But if you’re working in an open source way, “you are not here alone,” said Whitehurst. The community is where problems will be solved and opportunities will be unveiled. This was the essence of Whitehurst’s message.

And to those who say that open source is a nice idea but argue that truly open source companies can’t prosper because their products are technically free, consider this: Red Hat is a Fortune 500 company, its products are deployed in nearly 90 per cent of the Fortune 500 and its stock is currently trading higher than at any time since 1999.