The Open Core Model

It was Paul Dix, Founder and CTO of InfluxDB, that rocked the boat with his opening keynote at the last PerconaLive conference. His talk, titled “The Open Source Business Model is Under Siege”, discussed the existential struggle that open source software companies are facing. The talk is based on his experience building a viable business around open source over the last three and a half years with InfluxDB. You can see the full video here.

Infrastructure Software, a tough market …

Paul is right, building a viable open source company around infrastructure software is hard. Building a company around infrastructure tout court is hard these day. Need some examples? HPE buying storage unicorn Simplivty well below its recent valuation, Tintri doing an IPO as last option, Nutanix keeps piling up the losses quarter after quarter, RethinkDB and Basho shutting down and there are many more examples.

Open Core Model

I can offer only 1 advice for the above companies, It’s never too late to do the next right thing. And that next right thing was for Open vStorage moving away from a pure-play open source business model. Currently Open vStorage goes with the open core model. This means that we have a core distributed block storage project which is open source and free to use. But on the other hand we also have a closed source, commercial Enterprise Edition which adds more functionality to the core.
Maybe the term open core sounds a bit too pejorative. What we release as core is a fully functional distributed block storage platform. Deciding which feature ends up in the core and which in the Enterprise Edition is a difficult assessment. As rule of thumb, the core version should allow small clusters to be set up and operated without data loss and with decent performance. Even block storage clusters which span across multiple data centers can be set up with the core version. Enterprises which are looking to build their company (or part of it) on a service which couldn’t be built without the Open vStorage technology are gently steered towards the Enterprise Edition. These are typically well established, large enterprises which are looking to offer a new or better service to their customers. They also understand that one size doesn’t fit all and they want to be able to fiddle with all bells and whistles of Open vStorage. They want for example full control over which vDisk is using which part of the distributed cache. Or they want best in class performance and to achieve this they need features like the High Performance Read Mesh. Over time the list of ‘Enterprise Edition only’- features will grow. On the other hand nothing prevents us from moving features from the Enterprise Edition to the open source version down the line.

A final note

The open core model might offend some people. Yet, we aren’t the only one operating under an open core model. The open core business model is for example also used by Docker, MySQL, InfluxDB, MongoDB, Puppet, Midokura and many, many other software companies. It isn’t an easy business model as there is always discussion on which features to release as part of the open source project and which as part of the Enterprise Edition. But, we are confident that the open core model is the path forward. Not only for us but also for the whole software infrastructure market.

PS: Keep following our blog as over the next few weeks we will demonstrate the success of our open core business model with some extensive, multi petabyte, multi data center implementations.

About the Author
Wim Provoost
Product Manager Open vStorage.