本文摘要:Can big businesses be built on the idea of giving away software free of charge?能否靠免费发给软件来创建大企业?


Can big businesses be built on the idea of giving away software free of charge?能否靠免费发给软件来创建大企业?That paradox has stumped some of Silicon Valley’s smartest investors since “open source” software broke on to the tech scene, with the rise of the Linux operating system 15 years ago.自15年前Linux操作系统兴起、“对外开放源代码”(open source,全称:开源)软件超越科技行业格局以来,这种看起来自相矛盾的点子早已难倒了硅谷(Silicon Valley)的一些最聪明的投资者。Red Hat, which grew by selling maintenance and support to companies that used Linux, is now worth nearly $14bn. But other hopefuls fell by the wayside — even as open-source came to infiltrate many parts of the IT world, thanks to projects such as Linux and the Apache software used in most web servers.靠向用于Linux的企业出售确保和反对服务而发家的红帽公司(Red Hat),如今的市值已相似140亿美元。但其他怀揣这种期望的公司却折戟沉沙,尽管开源软件已渗透到IT界的多个方面(这种渗入归功于在网页服务器上广泛应用的Linux和Apache等项目)。

Now, investors are lining up to have another go, as a new breed of open source companies report rising revenues and plan initial public offerings. And this time, they think they have better ways of turning the popularity of open source into profits.如今,随着新的一类开源软件公司争相附上大大快速增长的收益并筹划首次公开发行(IPO),投资者正排着队打算再度碰碰运气。这一次,他们自指出有更佳的办法将开源软件的人气转化成为利润。

Open source software companies rely on networks of volunteer developers to help write their code and build an initial user base. They then aim to turn users into customers, giving the software away free while selling support services or add-ons.开源软件公司倚赖志愿开发者圈子来协助它们撰写代码和创建最初的用户群。它们接下来的目标是把用户转化成为客户,在免费发给软件的同时出售反对服务或其他可选服务。

Unfortunately for the upstarts, many big tech companies have co-opted open source themselves, to fill gaps in their own technology — and have added support for the code to their own business plans.对初创公司来说失望的是,很多大型科技公司已自己新的上马了开源项目,来空缺自身技术上的空白,并且已把进源代码反对服务重新加入到它们自己的商业计划中。Even Oracle and Microsoft, the most directly threatened by free software, have adjusted their strategies to accommodate aspects of open source.即便是不受自由软件必要威胁仅次于的甲骨文(Oracle)和微软公司(Microsoft),也已调整自身战略,以适应环境开源技术的各个方面。

However, while the first wave of open source relied on making free versions of existing programs without adding much new, Mike Volpi, a partner at venture capital firm Index Ventures says new approaches are emerging with the growth of cloud computing and “big data” analysis. He says that some developments in open source software are not being matched in the traditional world of commercial code.不过,第一波开源浪潮依赖分解既有程序的免费版本而不加添过于多新的东西,而据风投公司Index Ventures的合伙人米凯沃尔皮(Mike Volpi)回应,随着云计算和“大数据”分析的发展,新的作法于是以不断涌现出来。他说道,开源软件领域的一些新生事物在传统的收费软件界去找将近对应体。For example, Hadoop — code developed at Yahoo before it was released in open source form — is becoming a foundational technology for the era of big data. Hadoop was designed to handle the masses of data stored in the sort of distributed computing systems pioneered by large internet companies and now found in wider corporate use.例如,Hadoop(其代码是在雅虎(Yahoo!)研发的,而后在开源论坛公布)于是以渐渐沦为大数据时代的基础性技术之一。

Hadoop目的处置储存在分布式计算系统上的海量数据,这种系统的首批使用者是大型互联网公司,如今已在企业界获得更加普遍的应用于。Earlier this year, Cloudera, one of the companies trying to build a business on Hadoop, declared itself the second open source company to hit $100m in annual revenue, after Red Hat.今年早些时候,企图在Hadoop平台上创建业务的Cloudera,声称自己是时隔红帽之后第二家年收入约1亿美元的开源软件公司。

Open source is also proliferating in databases designed to support applications that run in the cloud. MongoDB, the standard-bearer for this wave of so-called NoSQL database companies, was valued at nearly $2bn in a round of fundraising earlier this year. Along with Cloudera — which has raised $1.2bn, much of it from Intel, and been valued privately at more than $4bn — it is at the forefront of a wave of IPOs anticipated for next year.一些数据库也大量使用开源技术,这些数据库目的承托在云端运营的应用于。作为这波所谓NoSQL数据库公司中的领袖,MongoDB在今年早些时候的一轮融资中被估值为将近20亿美元。该公司与Cloudera(Cloudera已融资12亿美元,其中许多来自英特尔(Intel),私下的估值已逾40亿美元)一道,皆处在预期明年将来临的一波IPO潮的最前沿。Critics, though, point to the past failure of open source developers to make much of a dent in the sector. Their technology “is not tested, it’s not hardened, and they have this new business model that’s totally unproven”, says Gary Bloom, chief executive of MarkLogic, a NoSQL company that still takes the traditional approach of selling licences to its products.但抨击人士认为,开源开发者过去并未能在该行业中留给多少印记。

MarkLogic首席执行官加里布卢姆(Gary Bloom)称之为,这些开发者的技术“未经检验,并不可信,而且他们的这种新的商业模式几乎予以检验”。MarkLogic是一家仍回头传统路线的NoSQL公司,依赖的是出售自己产品的许可证。MarkLogic’s own revenues last year were “well north of $100m” and the 14-year-old company is also eying an IPO, he adds.布卢姆补足称之为,去年MarkLogic的年收入“远超过1亿美元”,而且这家创立了14年的公司也在考虑到举办IPO。In recent years, though, being able to reach a mass user base with free software proved a bigger lure — even if turning reach into revenue has been a challenge. “If the cost of entry to our technology was $100,000 a server, not many people would be in a position to use it,” argues Kelly Stirman, head of strategy at Mongo. There are “hundreds of thousands of deployments” of the company’s free software, he says, though it has only 2,000 paying customers.但是,最近几年的事实证明,能用自由软件来与海量用户群建立联系是一个更大的欲望——尽管如何把这种联系转化成为收益仍然是个难题。

Mongo战略主管凯利斯蒂尔曼(Kelly Stirman)称之为:“如果用于我们技术的成本是每台服务器10万美元,有财力用的人难道会过于多。”他说道,该公司的自由软件有“数十万使用者”,尽管收费客户只有2000个。Ben Golub, chief executive of open source company Docker, suggests the new wave of developers have learnt the lessons of the past and are adding commercial tools and services to the mix.开源软件公司Docker的首席执行官本戈卢布(Ben Golub)指出,新一波的开发者已从历史中吸取了教训,他们于是以将收费工具和服务包进去。One opportunity lies in the need for add-on technologies to monitor and control IT systems. Mongo, for example, lets users run management software on eight servers free of charge, but makes them pay $50 a server to add more.一个机遇在于客户对监控IT系统的可选技术的市场需求。

例如,Mongo容许用户在8台服务器上免费运营管理软件,但用户每减少一台服务器须要缴纳给它50美元。A further opportunity comes from running the software on their own servers and providing a service to users through the cloud. Docker, for instance, sells a hosted service to small businesses that do not want to take on the work of managing their own IT.另一个机遇在于,在它们自己的服务器上运营软件,并通过云向用户获取服务。荐个例子,Docker向不愿分担管理自身IT工作的小企业获取收费托管地服务。Even so, some are still relying on the old model of offering free software but selling the maintenance and support. This is clearest in the Hadoop market, where Hortonworks — which last year became the first open source company since Red Hat to IPO — has stuck to the older business model in contrast to rivals Cloudera and MapR.尽管如此,仍有一些公司依赖获取自由软件但出售确保和反对服务的旧模式。

这种情况在Hadoop市场尤为显著:与竞争对手Cloudera和MapR比起,Hortonworks仍秉承较为杨家的商业模式。Hortonworks去年举办了IPO,沦为红帽之后首家上市的开源软件公司。Whatever their business model, the new generation of open source companies will have to move fast to avoid being crowded out by established tech giants.无论它们的商业模式是怎样,新一代开源软件公司必需很快采取行动,以防止被老牌的科技业巨头吸管局。Big players’ influence is clearest in the development of OpenStack, a package of software designed as a foundation for cloud computing. IBM and Hewlett-Packard have turned to OpenStack to support their own ambitions against cloud companies including Amazon and Microsoft.在OpenStack的研发方面,大玩家的影响力尤为显著。

OpenStack是一揽子软件,目的是沦为云计算的基础。IBM和惠普(HP)已转而用于OpenStack来承托其对付亚马逊(Amazon)和微软公司等云企业的志向。“Everyone has an axe to grind on it,” says Mr Volpi, which has slowed progress. “There is a reasonable amount of frustration over the speed with which it is being implemented.”“在这件事上,每个人都有自己的殊不知,”沃尔皮回应,这拖慢了开源软件的进展。

“人们对开源实施的速度有些失望。”It may sound like an opportunity for focused open source companies. But history suggests that even if their software catches on, commercial success may be elusive.这听得一起或许是专心于开源软件的公司面对的一个机遇。