Have you ever wondered what the world would look like if the invention of the wheel were patented? How about if fire were a proprietary technology? Or worse … what if Windows were the only operating system?
It has been 33 years since Richard Stallman announced the GNU Project, the first completely free and open-source operating system, and you would be hard-pressed to pinpoint a more revolutionary moment in the history of computing.
The fact is, without the existence of the open-source software movement and all the unbridled talent that goes along with it, IT would likely be decades behind where it is today.
Here are five IT roles that have been humbly empowered by open-source innovation.
Systems Administration & Virtualization
If there’s one area in which open source truly stands out, it’s virtualization. Microsoft’s Hyper-V is the only non-Linux-based hypervisor available so if you manage IT infrastructure with virtualization that isn’t Hyper-V, you basically owe your job to kindly FOSS folk you’ve never met.
Xen, VirtualBox, KVM, Qemu, Proxmox … take your pick. All these well-used technologies are 100 percent open source, and as free as sunshine. Desktop software like VirtualBox isn’t always useful for much besides home labs, but to be fair, lab learning on a shoestring budget is still the most popular way to forge new skills in IT.
Without the ability to perform free, hands-on training with virtual labs, many thousands of IT professionals would remain IT amateurs.
Closed-source virtualization software is also a huge fan of open source. For example, VMware has been using portions of the Linux source code in ESXi’s vmkernel since 2011. Unfortunately, VMware allegedly failed to adhere to the open source GPL license, and are currently defending themselves in court. Whoops.
Another major player in the virtualization space that owes much of its success to open source software is Citrix, Inc, as XenServer is essentially a luxury spinoff of the free and open source Xen hypervisor.
Cloud, Containers & DevOps
Container technology is a modern, refined form of virtualization. Where virtualization maximizes efficiency of resources, containers enable even more of that delicious efficiency by doing away with an extra OS kernel and that whole hypervisor thing.
They’re not a wholly new technology, but interest in containers has skyrocketed with the popularity of the open-sourced creation, Docker. This has opened up an exciting, new, and lucrative field for developers and engineers working with containers to quickly deliver services on-the-fly.
Even Microsoft has been stirred into action thanks to Docker, leading to their own native implementation of container services in Windows 10.
Expertise in any of the following open-source cloud platforms, container orchestration tools, and cluster managers is an impressive and valuable skillset in our new cloud-crazy climate:
- Docker/Docker Swarm
- Apache Mesos (used by eBay, Yelp, Airbnb, and Apple’s Siri)
- Kubernetes (developed by Google, and powering Twitter along with Mesos)
- OpenShift (built around Kubernetes and Docker, used internally by Cisco)
Big Data & Data Science
Large-scale data analytics and open source seem to go hand in hand. The venerable Apache Software Foundation is certainly partly responsible, given that Apache hosts the most dominant array of Big Data tools on the planet based on Hadoop.
While there are countless proprietary Big Data platforms out there, Apache Hadoop has done for Big Data what open-source virtualization did for IT. Apache’s open-source community has created not only an immensely useful product, but also a thriving ecosystem which continues to push Big Data to the limits of exploration.
Web Development & Design
Without the freely-given gifts of Chrome and Firefox, we’d still be running Internet Explorer, or an early version of Netscape if you wanted to be edgy. No need to spell out what kind of nightmarish dystopia that would be.
For more examples of heroic open-source contributions to the web and all the opportunities they’ve provided, consider the success of Apache, MySQL, WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, WooCommerce, SendMail, BIND, Postfix, and Open-Xchange. That’s more than half of the World Wide Web, in one way or another.
Although many malicious hackers’ operating system of choice is Unix-style, lending OSS some blame for the proliferation of hacking, security specialists would be running blind trying to thwart attackers without the power and flexibility of open-source security tools.
It’s a double-edged sword most security teams are happy to wield, and a healthy open-source IT security culture is extremely important to the development of a more secure society. Without network monitoring tools like Wireshark, Snort, and Nmap and dozens of others being freely available, IT security would be little less than a mockery.
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