Blog Post

Membase and Open Source 4.0

Bob Wiederhold of Couchbase Published

I read Matt Aslett's (The 451) post on the golden age of open source with interest. In it he describes that we've arrived at the fourth stage of open source, which is "in short: a return to a focus on collaboration and community, as well as commercial interests."

What we're doing with membase.org definitely falls in line with this description although with a slightly different twist. NorthScale saw the need for a simple, fast, and elastic NoSQL database that we felt wasn't being met by existing technologies. When it became clear that many prominent companies shared this view and were committed to an open source solution, NorthScale stepped in to shepherd the development of a broad community around the membase.org project. Consistent with Matt Aslett's description of open source 4.0, the result is a project with an "emphasis on collaboration and community rather than control." While NorthScale has contributed the bulk of the code to the project, our customers Zynga and NHN are co-sponsors of the project who have a strong commitment to its success. This blurring of the line between vendor and customer - the collaboration between two seemingly opposite sides of a transaction - has long set open source apart from the large proprietary vendors who want nothing more than a lock on their customers.

Traditionally, the primary attraction to open source, and what enabled it to make inroads in the enterprise, has been cost. This is the "cheaper Oracle than Oracle" model where the technology is not necessarily solving any new problems in the market, but provides a cheaper open source version of something enterprises are already paying for.

However, when I talk to enterprise companies, lowering costs no longer cuts it as a sole driver for open source technology adoption. On the other hand, if we engage our customers around a very real and painful problem they're dealing with - in our case, the mismatch between relational databases and the needs of interactive web applications - and demonstrate how we're solving this with innovative new technology, then we can have a discussion.

In a nutshell, the fourth stage of open source is much more than just a return to community and collaboration - it's about putting open source front and center as an engine of innovation. We're seeing an emergence of open source projects that solve a new problem and create a new solution that eases this pain point. The source code just happens to be open because it's what we have all come to expect. This is particularly true of infrastructure software going forward, where it's expected that some component, if not all of it, is available as open source.

We believe open source 4.0 is characterized in part by projects that solve new problems with innovative solutions and use a highly collaborative model. We encourage the participation of both "corporate sponsors" and passionate individuals who are willing to contribute to the membase roadmap and strengthen the community.