The National Security Agency (NSA) isn’t exactly known for openly telling the world any of its secrets. After all, the agency is charged with collecting intelligence from all around the globe in order to keep America safe. Since the agency has been traditionally shrouded in secrecy, the casual observer would almost certainly conclude the NSA isn’t a fan of the world of open source technology.
Well, that person would be wrong.
In fact, in partnership with the Apache Software Foundation, the NSA recently announced that it is releasing a tool that automates data flows between computer networks to the open source world. The tool is called Niagrafiles—or Nifi for short—and the agency believes it could be a game changer for many businesses in the private sector.
“Commercial enterprises could use it to quickly control, manage and analyze the flow of information from geographically dispersed sites—creating comprehensive situational awareness,” a press release issued by the agency reads.
The NSA says that the release of Nifi to the open source community is the first in a series of similar releases the agency plans for the rest of its Technology Transfer Program (TTP). According to the press release, the NSA hopes that by gifting Nifi to the community, private businesses will be able to accelerate their business processes. On top of that, other programmers and coders may very well be able to improve upon the software and make it better. The NSA in turn could then benefit from those additions.
Despite what one may think, the agency has been using open source solutions quite often and has also contributed to the community in the past. And the fact that one of the world’s most secretive organizations is embracing open source serves as a testament to the power of the community.
The more data you have at your disposal, the better-informed decisions you can make regarding your business operations.
When you use Web analytics for your business’s website, you gain a wealth of actionable insight into its performance. You’re able to see precisely where your Web traffic is coming from, what kinds of content is drawing the most readers to your site and which keywords your audience is most interested in, among other things.
Generally speaking, businesses that use analytical tools to measure their website performance turn to Google Analytics. Today, nearly 500,000 websites—including nearly 60 percent of the 10,000 most highly trafficked ones—use Google’s tools.
While Google Analytics works great for many businesses, the tools might not work best for all of them. If you’re thinking about finding analytical tools that give you control over your data, it might be time to consider whether open source alternatives are right for you. Let’s take a look at three :
- Piwik. Unlike Google Analytics, Piwik is hosted on your own server, which means you actually have control of the data that’s stored in your MySQL database. This allows you to segment your data as you see fit, running all kinds of reports to figure out how your business can improve its digital approach.
- eAnalytics. Boasting privacy protections, eAnalytics provides businesses insight into their customers’ buying behaviors, as well as how effective certain marketing campaigns have been to date. The open source analytics system can be augmented to meet your company’s specific requirements.
- Open Web Analytics. In addition to the standard features you’d find in an analytics tool kit, Open Web Analytics gives users the ability to see how visitors interact with your website using heat mapping technology. That way, you know the exact elements of your website that are working as well as which elements are not.
As technology evolves, businesses will have access to more data than ever before. But in order for that data to be valuable, companies need to be able to analyze it effectively. Luckily, there’s no shortage of open source tools that can assist to that end.
We’ve already seen social networking companies like Facebook put the power of open source to use to design the best and most efficient data centers. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that open source plays a significant role at another social site: Pinterest.
Believe it or not, the company uses open source solutions prolifically. Ludo Antonov, the company’s technical lead on its engineering team, recently shed more light on what those exact tools are: “Our data reporting pipeline is power by Hadoop/Hive. We heavily rely on MySQL and HBase for data storage. Our caching is reliant on Memcache and Redis, and our log collection is done via Kafka. Additionally, our Web platform build systems runs on Node and we are using Twitter’s Finagle.”
Antonov says that while the open source program is relatively new at the company, Pinterest has already released two open source projects, Secor and Bendor, which can be accessed here. Both projects attempt to solve problems relating to logging and load-testing.
Secor has already been adopted by Airbnb, and the code from programmers from that company has already found its way back into Pinterest’s production environment. Ostensibly because of the success of its experience in the open source community, the company plans to release even more open source projects In the future under the Apache 2.0 license.
“Contributing back to the community is essentially for innovation,” Antonov says. “Without open source software, Pinterest would probably not be where we are today. We feel that successful companies born with the help of open source software are essential in moving the community forward.”
Pinterest’s Technical Lead Talks Open Source
With the rise of smartphones comes a corresponding increase in amateur photographers. While it’s nice to be able to catalog a slew of pictures on your mobile device, there’s something about a real-world photograph digital replications won’t ever be able to replace.
Realizing this, many companies have begun building pint-sized mobile film printers. There’s LifePrint, a social, app-enabled printer that works via WiFi or a cellular connection and produces 3”x4” pictures. There’s Fuji’s Instax Share SP-1, a wireless printer that is compatible with both iOS and Android devices. And there’s also Impossible, a device which turns pictures taken on your iPhone into real-life Polaroids.
But these three proprietary mobile printing solutions are about to get a run for their money. Enter SnapJet, an open source mobile printer that provides the same functionality as the machines described above. With SnapJet, users can print photos on-the-go—the open source way.
Unlike the proprietary solutions, the printer doesn’t require ink, drivers, WiFi, Bluetooth, cables or even an app. On top of that, SnapJet will be compatible with any smartphone on the market, the company says.
Here’s how it works: Users set their phones on the printer’s scanner, and the device will scan your photo onto the instant film that’s stored in it. Once the film is fully exposed, it will pop out of a slot in the printer. The end result? You now have a hard copy of the photo you just took on your phone.
Since SnapJet’s an open source project, interested parties will soon be able to access the printer’s designs, deciding then to build one from scratch or customize it to their exact specifications.
SnapJet serves as further evidence that there’s an open source answer to any proprietary alternative. And those answers are generally better, as an open community of coders and designers puts their heads together to try and come up with the best final product.
The numbers all point to the same conclusion: When it comes to modern communication mediums, videoconferencing is becoming increasingly popular.
Consider the following:
- 70 percent of employees would rather use videoconferencing than travel to a meeting.
- Video lends itself to longer attention spans: According to research, users can focus for 35 minutes on video calls; that number shrinks to 23 minutes for regular phone calls.
- As much as 93 percent of human communication is nonverbal; videoconferencing allows for a better communication experience than a phone call, as those involved in the conversation can sense things like body language and gesticulation in order to better understand what’s being conveyed.
In other words, video is important. And now thanks to a new Google-backed open source project—YouTube WatchMe—it’s a whole lot easier to add live streaming video functionality into apps made by third-party developers.
And that’s great news: Rather than having to develop the framework that allows you to integrate live video streaming functionality into your Android-based projects on your own, Google’s done all the busywork for you. You’re now able to incorporate additional media tools into your applications.
According to the company’s blog, the YouTube WatchMe project leverages YouTube Data API v3, YouTube Live Streaming API, Google Play Services and Plus API. You’re also able to completely customize the new tools for your specific app, tailoring it in a way that makes the most sense for your audience.
It’s safe to say that in 2014, users are growing to expect to see more and more video as they go about their daily digital routines. Rather than forcing third-party programmers to write the code themselves that enables this live streaming functionality, Google understands that by giving it away for free, programmers will be able to engineer more comprehensive apps.
And there’s bound to be at least one out of the bunch that’s truly transformative.
Proponents of proprietary software believe that engineers who build robust platforms—and the companies that employ them—should be rewarded financially. These folks believe companies should also be allowed to hold their code close to their vest, never revealing it to anyone outside company walls.
On the other hand, open source proponents believe that in the world of technology, the path to increased innovation comes from sharing ideas. In many cases, this involves sharing code, too: In the open source world, engineers become part of an open community of programmers who are constantly trying to improve projects.
This communal environment inspires people to produce to the best of their abilities. And that production comes in a timely manner: Open source engineers are often able to use the code of other programmers as a starting point—a foundation upon which to build.
That philosophy is what inspired Meteor, an open source web programming framework that gives other programmers a starting point to build desktop-style applications that function in the browser. Currently, creating that framework might take months or even years, according to Geoff Schmidt, the developer who built Meteor. But it shouldn’t have to.
“The idea of Meteor is that everyone should have that stuff,” Schmidt explains. “It shouldn’t take a couple years to get to the market.”
Schmidt said that he and his colleagues had originally set out to make an app that made travel recommendations. But, as they went about working on that project, they quickly realized that the framework they had developed was more important than any kind of travel-related app they might have ended up with.
Though Meteor is still in its nascent stage—it’s just left its beta stage—many companies have already taken to building applications on it. This fact alone, Schmidt contends, reveals how pressing a need there is for his open source framework.
It’s no secret that government bodies are forced to get creative if they want to keep operating without a hitch in the face of continually receding budgets. It’s also no secret that to operate effectively, these organizations need to leverage cutting-edge technological solutions to expedite processes, like collecting revenues and facilitating communications.
With open source solutions—software that’s developed in a community setting and is shared freely, generally speaking—governments are able to accomplish these tasks, being both productive and cost-effective at the same time.
But while many governments have decided to modernize their technological infrastructure, not all of them have. Since it’s only a matter of time before more governments deploy open source solutions, let’s take a look at three reasons why government contractors should use open source:
- Continued improvement. Once a project is open sourced, a community of enthusiastic programmers works together to consistently improve the code. While government agencies might not have the staff in place to develop new features, the open source community does. Contractors can work to establish maintenance contracts with government bodies and can also serve in advisory roles.
- A better product. Because open source code is scanned, edited and built upon by well-trained experts, you can trust that it’s able to be repurposed. This allows you to save a whole lot of time on your projects, as you won’t have to rewrite the same lines over and over again. The time saved can then be reinvested in the product, resulting in a stronger finished version.
- It’s the future. Google, Facebook—and even Microsoft and Adobe—leverage open source solutions. As more and businesses wake up to the facts, it’s likely they will similarly migrate away from proprietary solutions.
In addition to the above, rather than having to keep mum about their involvement in government projects, contractors are able to get their names out in the public, for free, when they participate in the open community. What’s not to like?
What do Munich, the United Kingdom, Egypt, and Tamil Nadu, India, have in common? Well, in addition to the fact that they’re all places on Earth, they are also locations where the government has decided to deploy open source software.
Quebec—though long criticized for its failure to embrace open technology— may be the next locale to be included on the above list, and sooner rather than later. The province’s change of heart is due in part to Canada’s Bill 133, which was passed by the government in 2011. The bill requires any serious conversation about IT decisions to include discussion of open alternatives.
While the Canadian federal government has centralized its IT operations, Quebec is more of a fragmented ecosystem without much overlap among departments. As a result, it can be hard to quickly implement changes. Still, it’s likely only a matter of time before open systems win out over their proprietary substitutes. After all, what’s the sense in paying sizeable licensing fees for proprietary solutions when their open source alternatives provide the same functions?
Simply put, it no longer makes sense in many instances to deploy commercial solutions. This reality is wholeheartedly understood by the younger generation, according to industry insiders. “There’s a big generational shift taking place,” explains Cyrille Béraud, president of Savoir-faire Linux. “Baby boomers are retiring and new people are taking over. They realize that the knowledge economy is important; they grew up with the Internet, and they know that the Internet was built on open software.”
As the public becomes more educated about open source software, it’s easy to imagine taxpayers encouraging their governments to reduce unnecessary IT expenses by ridding themselves of proprietary systems.
It seems as though everything is getting virtualized.
To save money, accelerate time to market and provide flexibility, many businesses are deciding to embrace network functions virtualization (NFV), the process in which server-based network operations—like intrusion detection, firewalls, Domain Name Service (DNS) and others—are virtualized.
In other words, NFV empowers engineers to deploy and manage network services virtually.
In an effort to accelerate innovation and advance open NFV, the Linux Foundation recently announced a consortium of companies would be joining forces on the Open Platform for NFV Project, which is described as a “carrier-grade, integrated open source platform.”
While the consortium includes many of the expected companies—AT&T, Cisco, Dell, HP, IBM and Intel, among many others—some industry juggernauts, like Verizon and BT, are conspicuously missing.
“The Open Platform for NFV will bring together providers, cloud and infrastructure vendors, developers and users alike to define a new type of reference platform for the industry, integrating existing open source building blocks with new components and testing that accelerates development and deployment of NFV,” explained Jim Zemlin of the Linux Foundation. “We are excited to host this important industry initiative that will provide a common foundation for the future of networks.”
So why the push for NFV, anyway? For starters, NFV:
- Saves money. Businesses are able to reduce both CAPEX and OPEX when they move forward with NFV. Rather than having to pay to power and cool a host of equipment or buy new purpose-built hardware, everything you need to power your operations can be managed on a virtual machine.
- Accelerates innovation. Instead of having to invest a whole lot of time deploying networking services in a traditional manner, NFV allows you to make changes immediately, thus allowing you to better navigate ever-changing business requirements.
- Provides agility. NFV gives you the ability to deliver services via software. This allows you to quickly figure out new configurations virtually instead of having to figure out what changes need to be made to hardware.
NFV is still a relatively new idea. But thanks to the fact that the open source community has finally embraced it, we should begin to see more companies benefiting from it in the very near future.
These days, any serious IT professional needs to be well versed in open source technology. Recognizing this need, Seneca College founded The Centre for Development of Open Technology (CDOT) in 2002, committed to the sharing knowledge, education and projects with the open source world. While Seneca’s dedication to open source technology showcases the college’s forward-thinking abilities, the fact that it’s making the news in the first place also highlights the notion that not enough higher learning institutions are committed to the open cause.
So how did CDOT come to be so immersed in open source technology? Well, back in 2005 David Humphrey, a faculty member, got in touch with Mozilla with some questions related to Firefox’s code base. After the engineers at Mozilla saw what Seneca students were able to do, a symbiotic relationship was born.
Back in the day, we probably became accustomed to having professors assign us what appeared to be busywork from time to time. Rather than having programming students create code to solve fabricated problems that have no real-world application, CDOT empowers its student researchers to work on problems that were indeed very real. At the same time, these students become very familiar with the open source philosophy that working together, a group of programmers is often able to come up with a better solution. And because the code that powers those solutions is free for anyone to see, the solutions can be continuously improved.
Seneca’s open source program differs from the handful of other programs due to the fact that undergraduate students are able to get incredibly involved with actual open source projects. Believe it or not, the school actually designs courses in such a way so as to ensure students will participate in them.
The end result? Many of CDOT alumni end up at open source companies like Mozilla and Google.
As time passes, even more companies, governments and education institutions will embrace open source technology. Since that’s the case, the sooner your organization does, the better.