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Three ways to optimize open source contributions

Optimizing strategies for open source contributions and usage is becoming a key differentiator for many organizations. Here are some benefits and tips for getting the most out of these contributions and to drive open source software maturity.

Because open source software (OSS) is taking over the world, optimizing open source contributions is becoming an essential competitive strategy. OSS is a faster, more collaborative, and more flexible way of driving software innovation than proprietary-only code. This flexibility appeals to developers and can help organizational leadership drive down costs while supporting digital transformation goals. The figures speak for themselves: 80% of organizations increased their OSS use in 2022. Especially those operating in critical infrastructure sectors such as oil and gas, telecommunications, and energy.

However, open source is not a panacea. Governance, security, and balancing between contributing to OSS development and preserving a commercial advantage pose challenges for many organizations. These considerations are important if developers want to maximize the impact of their contributions to open source projects.

Benefits of making open source contributions

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach with OSS. Projects could range from relatively small software components, such as general-purpose Java class libraries, to major systems, such as Kubernetes for container management or Apache’s HTTP server for modern operating systems. Organizations are more likely to adopt projects that receive regular contributions and updates from reputable developers. These projects provide a range of proven benefits.

1 Saves time and resources

Open source can save time and resources, as developers don’t have to expend their own energies to produce code. One study estimates that the top four OSS ecosystems recorded more than three trillion component requests last year. That utilization represents a great deal of time and effort developers are saving. That saving means teams can devote more time to developing proprietary functionality to boost revenue streams. The same study estimates that $1.1 billion in OSS investments in the EU generated around $100 billion.

2 Benefits from diverse contributions

OSS also encourages experts from across the globe—whether individual hobbyists or DevOps teams from multinational companies—to contribute their coding skills and industry knowledge. The idea is projects benefit from a diverse pool of developers, driving up the quality of the final product. In contributing to these projects, businesses and individuals can also stake a claim to the future direction of a particular product or field of technology. With such a stake, they can help shape the technology to advance their priorities. Organizations also benefit from being at the leading edge of any new discoveries and innovations. Fostering such involvement can help organizations gain an advantage over the competition by being first to market.

3 Drives a culture of innovation

Organizations that regularly contribute to OSS can also help to drive a culture of innovation. Alongside an organization’s track record on patents, a commitment to OSS projects can allow prospective new hires to contribute their own innovation, which can help attract the brightest and best talent.

Three ways to get the most out of open source contributions

To maximize the benefit of their contributions to the OSS community, DevOps leaders should ensure their organization has a clear, strategic approach. There are three key points to consider in these efforts:

1 Define the scope of the organization’s contribution

OSS is built on the expertise of a potentially wide range of individuals and organizations, many of whom are otherwise competitors. This “wisdom of the crowd” can ultimately help to create better-quality products more quickly. However, it can also raise difficult questions about how to keep proprietary secrets under wraps. Often, there is pressure from the community to share certain code bases or functionality that could benefit others. By defining what they want to keep private at the outset, contributors can draw a clear line between commercial advantage and community benefit.

2 Contribute to open standards

Open standards are the foundation on which OSS contributors can collaborate. By contributing to these initiatives, organizations have a fantastic opportunity to shape the future direction of OSS. Helping to solve common problems can enhance the value of their own commercial products. OpenTelemetry is one such success story. This collection of tools, APIs, and SDKs enables organizations to capture and export telemetry data from applications to make tracing more seamless across boundaries and systems. As a result, OpenTelemetry has become a de facto industry standard for how organizations capture and process observability data. OpenTelemetry brings organizations closer to achieving a unified view of hybrid technology stacks in a single platform.

3 Build robust security practices

Despite the benefits of OSS, there’s always a risk of vulnerabilities slipping into production if teams don’t detect and remedy them quickly and effectively in development environments. Three-quarters (75%) of chief information security officers (CISOs) worry the prevalence of team silos and point solutions throughout the software development lifecycle makes it easier for vulnerabilities to fly below the radar. Their concerns are valid. For example, according to one estimate, the average application development project contains 49 vulnerabilities. These risks will only grow as more organizations adopt ChatGPT-like tools to support software development by compiling code snippets from open source libraries.

Essential capabilities needed to support open source contributions

Given the dynamic, fast-changing nature of cloud-native environments and the increasing use of open source software, teams need a way to manage and monitor OSS at scale. To support safe and efficient OSS development and usage, teams should enlist a unified source of end-to-end observability. By combining comprehensive OSS observability data with trustworthy AI, teams can understand the full context behind what OSS they use and how. With this insight, organizations can unlock precise, real-time answers about OSS-related vulnerabilities in their environment. In turn, DevOps teams can implement security and quality gates throughout the delivery pipeline. These gates help teams automatically detect and resolve vulnerabilities and bugs before releasing software into production.

OSS is increasingly important to long-term success, even for commercially motivated organizations. Developing a strategy for effectively using and contributing to key OSS projects can help determine an organization’s success.