Open Future: How Alibaba is Embracing Open Source to Benefit the Entire Ecosystem
Open source helps drive technology forward by sharing knowledge and preventing reinvestment of resources
In 1998, open source technology was an ideological fringe movement. By 2018, open source was fast becoming the de facto way to build software.
By 2008, many open source solutions were available. Though many available open source solutions were useful, they were still not suitable for large-scale or more complex scenarios. This meant that many companies used open source for basic purposes, but ultimately still developed their own products.
From 2008 to 2018, Alibaba was a consistent member of the open source community, both using, and contributing to, open source software. Alibaba’s involvement in the community has helped open source develop to where it is today. This is because the more developers and companies are involved in the open source ecosystem, the more open source platforms will improve, as the input of more community members will result in more ideas and more improvements being generated.
At the recent 2018 Computing Conference in Hangzhou, seasoned Alibaba developer Lin Hao(林昊) delivered a speech looking back at his ten years of experience working with open source systems at Alibaba. In this article, we look at some of the highlights of his speech, and see how Alibaba and open source are working together to drive computing forward.
How Alibaba Uses and Contributes to Open Source
Alibaba, like many companies, has benefited from using open source software. To understand the types of open source software that Alibaba has used, and to see how Alibaba has given back, it helps to examine two success stories of the open source world. Linux and Kubernetes are examples of successful open source operating systems and container orchestration systems, respectively.
Linux is a well-known open source operating system which has come to dominate the supercomputer market; more than 99 percent of supercomputers use a Linux operating system.
As a group of open source operating systems, Linux doesn’t owe its success to one group or company.
A total of 1,500 companies and 15,000 developers are developing around the Linux kernel. Alibaba is one of the companies that uses Linux and contributes to its development.
Kubernetes is another open source success story, and became one of the most popular container orchestration systems in just a couple of years. Google, in collaboration with other companies, built the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) on the foundations laid by Kubernetes.
CNCF helps companies access the cloud. With CNCF, companies can connect to the cloud effectively, and switch between services easily without needing to bind to a service.
CNCF has requested help from many companies to help define software, and Alibaba has helped contribute on numerous occasions. In 2017, Alibaba Cloud joined CNCF as a gold member.
Open Opportunity: Alibaba’s Contributions to Open Source
Alibaba has made available over 400 open source platforms which have contributed significantly to the open source ecosystem. The following subheadings introduce just a few of these platforms.
Pouch has gone from a 2011 internal project called T4 to an open source lightweight container technology. This has provided free global access to an advanced data platform capable of handling Alibaba’s vast data reserves.
Dubbo is another significant Alibaba contribution to the open source community. Dubbo is an RPC and microservice framework, and its development required a team of ten to twenty expert engineers.
Yet even with the finest minds at Alibaba working on the project, there were still many failures before Dubbo became a healthy and stable product. By making Dubbo open source, Alibaba has saved other companies and developers from having to reinvest time and resources only to achieve the same result.
Another successful Alibaba contribution to open source is RocketMQ. Kafka used to be the go-to choice for developers for messaging services. Since RocketMQ’s open source release, more and more developers have been using RocketMQ as their messaging engine.
OpenMessaging is a distributed messaging specification that is the result of a collaboration between companies including Alibaba, Yahoo, DiDi, Streamlio, WeBank, and DataPipeline. OpenMessaging provides international standards in distributed computing and messaging, which helps the efficient development of distribution and streaming platforms.
A Growing Community
The more companies and developers contribute to the open source community, the more software and platforms can accelerate innovation, overcome obstacles, and move towards a healthier and more thriving ecosystem. Open source is a way of sharing knowledge that allows companies and developers to pursue new discoveries instead of spending resources doing has already been done elsewhere.
Alibaba supports the potential of open source to drive technological progress, and has been an active user and contributor to open source software for many years. Alibaba will continue to be an invested member of the open source community, and do all it can to drive progress forward.