Thursday, 20 November 2014 01:04

Lock-in a danger to open source, says SUSE official Featured

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If there is one aspect in the open source world that can prove detrimental, it is companies that indulge in lock-in to the extent possible, according to Gerald Pfeifer, senior director of product management at SUSE.

Speaking to iTWire on the sidelines of SUSECon 2014, the third annual conference of the Germany-based SUSE Linux, which is being held in Orlando, Florida this week, Pfeifer (lictured above) did not mention any companies by name, though he did make a passing reference to Oracle.

While the general practices of open source, as far as Linux goes, mitigate against lock-in, it is still possible for companies to try and control the products their customers use: for instance, not so long ago, Red Hat Linux, the biggest company in the open source space, told its customers that it was not able to support implementations of OpenStack (the open source cloud computing software) by other companies.

And while Android, the mobile operating system created by Google, has some bits that are open, the search giant has controlled development to a large extent to suit itself.

Pfeifer said there were big stack vendors who often stipulated to customers that everything be obtained from them, else things may not work properly. With a wry smile, he said this was not a practice at SUSE, simply because there were some things that were not in SUSE's interest to implement. And the customer's choice was paramount, he added.

He favoured having a good relationship with upstream communities, because, as he pointed out, SUSE was based on open source. Everyone would benefit when code improvements and innovations were shared.

Asked about the relationship between SUSE's enterprise distribution and openSUSE, the community distribution that the company supports, Pfeifer said there was no rule as to whether a given technology appeared first in either one.

In the case of the systemd initialisation system, he said that both the distributions had done the same thing. "SUSE Linux Enterprise 12 actually uses journald, just not the journald storage backend but classic syslog (rsyslogd). We made this design choice to accommodate expectations of classic UNIX/Linux administrators. The same applies to my openSUSE 13.2 installation, as I verified personally," he said.

But at times the two distributions take different paths. The Btrfs filesystem, for example, went into the enterprise stream before it went into openSUSE. Asked about the choice of Btrfs, Pfeifer pointed to various attributes that had helped SUSE decide on it - scalability, copy and write, deduping, cheap snapshotting, and file integrity. Between xfs - which is the default chosen by Red Hat - and Btrfs, Pfeifer said copy and write was implemented in the latter. "Chris Mason (the lead developer of Btrfs) was initially a SUSE employee," he added. (Mason moved on to Oracle and is now employed by Facebook).

Asked about all the acrimony that has resulted in the Debian community over systemd, Pfeifer said while he could understand the concern, but added that for SUSE, systemd was "right and good".

Work on incorporating systemd into SUSE began two years ago. What was finally implemented, Pfeifer said, was "what makes sense technically and community-wise".

Disclosure: The writer is attending SUSECon in Orlando, Florida, as a guest of SUSE.

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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