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Modern Developer | January 31, 2018

The Future Is Open

By: Alexa Morales

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The technologies of tomorrow have the potential to change the world for the better, whether it’s via planet-scale apps scheduled with Kubernetes Federation or blockchain-based trust with Hyperledger. These two examples are both enabled by open source software (OSS)—but OSS is only one facet of Oracle’s commitment to being open.

“When we say Oracle is open, we don’t just mean open source. We mean that we support non-Oracle technologies as well as the ability to work in an ecosystem that is broader than Oracle. We definitely believe that,” says Amit Zavery, senior vice president for Oracle Cloud Platform. Zavery describes a vision for Oracle that includes open source tools, databases, platforms, and languages; managed services to make OSS more intuitive to use; and open collaboration, innovation, and interoperability.

“We’re taking important open source innovations and providing automation, management, and enterprise-grade capabilities around them,” Zavery says, pointing to Oracle Cloud services for managing a plethora of OSS technologies, including Kubernetes (such as Global Multi-Cluster Management Fn, Hadoop, Spark, Kafka, the Cassandra NoSQL database (by way of Oracle Data Hub Cloud Service), TensorFlow, and Caffe (via Oracle Artificial Intelligence Platform Cloud Service), to name just a few.

More OSS Than Ever Before

With each year, OSS expands in importance. Developers have gained ground too: Today, their status has risen from that of hidden minions to that of visible makers in a software-bitten world. As a result, the tech industry has quickly moved from questioning the OSS business model to embracing it.

“There are a lot of areas where we need either more free software or more involvement in existing free software projects,” says Berlin, Germany–based computer scientist Lydia Pintscher. A free-culture enthusiast, Pintscher is the product manager for Wikidata and the president of KDE e.V., a nonprofit supporting free and open end-user software. Her work, she says, aims to break through the tendency to lock down technology and “make it harder and harder to tinker with.”

Oracle agrees with Pintscher: Innovation thrives when technology can be shared and modified. The company has delivered mightily in the past year on the promise of an open and modern development platform, including

Today, the cloud-native application stack designed by Oracle has open elements at every layer from containers to orchestration—and one of the newest pieces, serverless development, only reinforces that commitment.

Serverless and the Developer Experience

One sign that developers are at the top of the heap? The degree to which technology companies such as Oracle enhance productivity with tools that flow delightfully together.

“Serverless is a foundational part of the next technology evolution, and it needs to be built on an open, integrated, and seamless stack—which leads to an integrated and seamless developer experience,” says Mark Cavage, software development vice president for Oracle Container Native Application Development and Java. That seamless stack comprises Docker containers, managed Kubernetes-based orchestration, and one of Oracle’s most recent open source contributions, serverless functions on the Fn platform.

Serverless computing—programming logical operations that run on an abstracted deployment platform in the cloud—promises to rev up the engine of innovation. Developed by the IronFunctions team, Oracle’s Fn Project is a command-line tool for coding and deploying functions in platform-independent Docker containers. These functions perform discrete operations such as image processing or semantic analysis. And the micro-operations can scale dynamically, eliminating the sticker shock of unfettered pay-as-you-go applications gobbling cloud resources.

“The way we package software is fundamentally different, thanks to containers,” says Chad Arimura, Oracle vice president of software development and founding CEO of Iron.io. “But they aren’t without difficulties, especially at scale. The Fn Project gives developers a ‘containerless experience’ by abstracting out the complexities—yet exposing their power.”

Java, a First-Class Language for the Open Cloud

While the modern container stack is polyglot, Java is a first-class language for the cloud. Oracle takes its stewardship of Java, which is used by more than 12 million developers worldwide, seriously. To make it easier to deploy Java apps to the cloud, Oracle plans to ship OpenJDK builds under the general public license (GPL), allowing developers to freely distribute apps along with their frameworks and applications.

An exciting element of the Fn serverless platform is the Java Function Developer Kit (FDK), which simplifies the process with a language-specific library. (There are also FDKs for Go and Python.) These functions are also portable to and from other platforms such as Amazon’s Lambda—an indicator that Oracle’s approach to container-native stacks avoids the lock-in found in Amazon Web Services.

“Amazon is probably the most locked-in cloud provider,” says Zavery. “You can’t take anything you build on AWS very easily somewhere else, unless of course you build it on compute bare metal. Lambda is a good example, and so are Stack templates, Amazon Formation, and Kinesis—they’re all completely locked in.”

Open Container Orchestration

The Oracle contribution that is most likely to thrill cloud-native developers is container orchestration. In September 2017, Oracle joined the Linux Foundation’s CNCF, which guides the development of the Kubernetes container orchestration tool. Bob Quillin, Oracle vice president of developer relations for the Container Native Group, notes that CNCF also boasts Prometheus for monitoring, Open Tracing for instrumenting distributed code, gRPC for remote procedure calls, and the Open Container Initiative. Oracle has released Kubernetes on Oracle Linux; committed engineers to the Kubernetes project; and open sourced tools including SmithCrashCart, and Terraform Installer for Kubernetes on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure.

Several engineering teams at Oracle are dedicated to the Kubernetes effort, particularly in security, networking, and federation. TJ Fontaine, former Node.js project lead, is now Oracle’s lead contributor to Kubernetes. Jon Mittelhauser, who wrote the first widely used web browser and now works as an Oracle vice president of container native engineering, has joined CNCF’s governing board.

Blockchain Could Change Everything

If serverless is the ultimate expression of utility computing, blockchain is the ultimate expression of transactional trust in a networked world—and as such, it must be built with open standards in mind. The new Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service leverages Hyperledger Fabric, the open source effort led by the Linux Foundation. Blockchain is a cloud-based distributed ledger that can be used in business-to-business partner ecosystems for more-secure transactions and data sharing.

“Blockchain holds the promise to fundamentally transform how business is done, making business-to-business interactions more secure, transparent, and efficient,” says Zavery. “Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service provides enterprise-grade blockchain capabilities and is able to accelerate innovation for on-premises enterprise resource planning and cloud-based SaaS and PaaS customers. Enterprises can now streamline operations across their ecosystem and expand their market reach with new revenue streams, sharing data and transacting within and outside Oracle Cloud.”

As part of its commitment to helping enterprise customers realize the benefits of blockchain, Oracle recently joined Hyperledger, the open source collaborative effort hosted by the Linux Foundation and created to advance cross-industry blockchain technologies. By maintaining interoperability with open standards, Oracle enables customers to benefit from all open source innovations and avoid vendor lock-in.

“There are religious or scientific arguments for OSS,” says Quillin, “but there’s also the market. Customers are demanding it.”

Being Open Powers Innovation

It bears repeating that Oracle’s OSS credibility is strong but often ignored. “We’ve been doing this for years, but other companies seem to get more open source kudos than we do,” says Zavery, echoing perennial comments by Quillin and others.

“We came into the Oracle Cloud group as part of the Stack Engine acquisition, and it was very much an open source–centric environment,” says Quillin. “From the outside in, people scratch their heads about Oracle and OSS. From the inside out, it’s a very strong commitment, with a lot of new blood and new startups combined with a rich history across open standards and open source including Java, Linux, and MySQL. Across Oracle, that’s fanning out into lots of different facets of cloud computing built on an open source platform.”

Beyond interoperability and market forces, there’s another force driving Oracle’s increasingly open technology stack: Open platforms and OSS foster innovation. Why? Developers are frequently motivated to join something with a bigger potential reach than their own company’s commercial vision. Hobby projects can hone new skills or, with luck, turn into the next Docker. Open platforms don’t just avoid lock-in; they allow a best-of-breed culture to flourish—and shine a light on vulnerabilities.

“We need to demand much more to be able to tinker with our devices, change them, and make them do things they were not intended for—because a locked-down device makes it harder or even impossible to run free software on it,” says Pintscher. “If you open up your software and technology, you empower people. You won’t have all the best ideas of how a program should work and be used. Empower others to let them help themselves and you.”

It’s becoming ever more clear, as developers seek to create apps that serve diverse audiences around the world, that inclusive teams build better solutions. Giving them the tools to do so—and the ability to modify those tools as they see fit—is the way of the future.

Alexa Weber Morales is director of developer content at Oracle. Morales is the former editor in chief of Software Development magazine and has more than 15 years of experience as a technology content strategist and journalist.

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