Cycloid and the open source community

Today, as part of our birthday series, we're taking a look at Cycloid's relationship with open source software and the greater open source community. It's something really important to us and we'd like share some thoughts. 

TL;DR

Cycloid is built on open-source software and offers several open-source tools. The open-source aspect is important to us and we're going to tell you why.

The open source journey so far

Although there's probably a fair bit of argument about the "first" open-source tool, the whole concept of open-source sprang from extensive data sharing among universities back at the very start of the internet and software.

Much like the wider internet and computing in general, it was a pretty niche area and not generally available to Joe Public or generally interesting to Joe Business.

That was, of course, until Microsoft came along. The tech giant took a more commercial approach, and protected their assets - both physical and digital - with the creation of proprietary software protected with intellectual property laws and licenses.

Two parallel paths

Microsoft was the gatekeeper and, very soon, thousands of other software developers followed in their wake. Proprietary software soon became big, well funded, and generally well-accepted by the public as the use of computers and the internet - and the interest in software - became more widespread.

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Elsewhere, however, not insignificant numbers of people looked for another option. Not everyone was like (or liked) Microsoft, and many people still maintained a more "open-source" attitude to digital rights and tools. Open-source projects continued to grow in parallel to the proprietary ones. The communities around these projects deliberately styled themselves around open-source values of visibility, contribution, and community and, quietly and slowly, open-source software continued to grow.

The evolution of open source

For a significant period of time, open-source software flew under the radar. It had many staunch fans and contributors but, by and large, remained pretty niche, with the average person pretty ignorant as to what it was and how it differed to Photoshop or Microsoft Office. 

Over the years, open-source software did grow in popularity, even if not in fame; it was embedded in 3rd-party tools. Before long, even though they might not always have been aware of it, people were using tools based on increasingly powerful names in the open-source community, like:

  • Linux
  • MariaDB
  • Apache
  • MongoDB
  • Vue.js
  • Angular
  • Go

Open-source software may not have been on the tip of the general public's tongue, but it was making significant and widespread inroads regardless.

Making open-source money

As open-source software grew from strength to strength, the open-source community did too. It had - and has - a reputation for positivity and trust and many companies discovered that this attribute, plus the fact that at any one time there were thousands of eyes on your code, meant that problems were discovered early. This was great news for software security and made open-source apps attractive to more commercially-minded investors. 

Since there's no money to be made from selling open-source software, the related business model is quite specific. In many cases, in total contrast to proprietary apps, it is based on community value, not dollar value. There will always be exceptions - take RedHat, for example. The Linux company was bought by IBM for $33 million in 2018. Generally, however, monetizing open-source tools is a little complicated.

The rule, however, is that if you want to go full open source, you'll need investment or a company behind you to fund it all. The software itself doesn't make any money, so there needs to be something else making bank.

The paradox of open-source business

Not all open-source tools will have their Redhat moment, but something is likely to change in the community soon. There has long been a misconception that open source software is maintained by some guy in his parent’s basement, eating pizza (and not the good stuff).

But open source is much, much bigger than that - it's vibrant, innovative and professional. And that guy in his parents' basement needs more than some cheap pizza. He actually wants a fair salary, professional opportunities, and good health insurance and THAT is what will influence the future.

Cycloid & open source

Here at Cycloid, everything’s based on open-source software; we use a Linux-based operating system, Go, and Vue.js. We also embed open source in our stack. This allows us to guarantee that Cycloid doesn't lock clients in, which is very important to us. Cycloid itself isn’t open source, but that’s a choice.  As we discussed above, to make money open source, you need money from investors - and lots of it. And when you have lots of money from investors, you’re kind of beholden to them, which isn’t our style!

Since Cycloid happily uses open-source software, we think it's only fair to contribute to the community too. As of now, we have two open-source tools, with another one, an open-source CLI tool, in the very near future (want to hear about it as soon as it happens? Sign up for our infrequent email updates).

Cycloid's open-source tools

InfraMap reads HCL or TFstate to generate a graph

InfraMap, which we describe as InfraView's little sister, runs on the same engine as InfraView but instead of InfraView's slick UI, it produces a pared-down, raw graph from either HCL or Terraform. InfraMap is free and open-source and we've written about it in more detail here.

TerraCognita is a "reverse" Terraform generator

TerraCognita is our open-source Terraform generator. It takes manually generated infrastructures and creates Terraform from them, allowing you to manage all your resources as code, even older and legacy infras. TerraCognita is also free and open source, and you can read about it here

Open source and the future

As time goes on, there will be more funding for open source. VCs will realize the possibilities, driven by a market that increasingly values data autonomy and transparency. But there's a potential pothole - often, once the money comes, so does the growth, and with the growth comes a bottom line that gets prioritized over people - and that won’t sit well with many open source companies and developers.

The people  that come out on top will be the ones who manage to find a middle path through the two concerns - making money and the spirit of open source. Whoever achieves it will be incredibly lucky - open source is a sleeping giant, and whoever discovers how to wake it, gently, will have a very prosperous future ahead.

 

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