Open-source's former 'police' now helping businesses adopt

The growth of open-source in the business world has wrought a lot of changes, but few are as striking as the turnabout of Black Duck Software.

The growth of open-source in the business world has created a lot of changes, but few are as striking as the turnabout of Black Duck Software.

The Burlington, Mass., company was founded in 2002 as a consulting and software company that helped businesses keep inconveniently-licensed code i.e. open-source out of their products. These days, however, Black Duck says that its mission is to help harmonize open-source components within projects, and keep companies safe from known vulnerabilities in open libraries.

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Executive Vice President and CTO Bill Ledingham said that when the company was founded the idea was to keep GPL-licensed code out of corporate codebases entirely.

"Because the last thing they want to have happen is for one of their developers to go out to the web, grab this piece of open-source, unbeknownst to the rest of the management team, include that piece of software in there and find out it has a GPL license attached to it that says OK, now we have to turn over our entire code base back to the open-source community,'" he told Network World in an interview at Black Duck's newly revamped headquarters.

This meant that, in the early days, the company operated sort of like the Pinkertons, rooting out open-source code like pro-union workers.

"Really, it was around let's find and extinguish open-source,' the original notion was to mitigate the risk, you need to find it, and if it has one of these bad licenses, you need to get it out of the code base," Ledingham said.

The times, however, have changed dramatically. The benefits of open-source use, according to Black Duck, are becoming abundantly clear to business users - more than a third of the code in use across the Fortune 500 is open-source these days.

"You've really seen ... more of an embrace of the use of open-source, because of all the advantages that it brings, around lowering the cost of development, speeding up the time to market of new functionality, you no longer have to reinvent a lot of the basic infrastructure that's out there if you can leverage open-source for that," said Ledingham.

Part of the reason for that is big business is increasingly doing its own development in-house, which puts additional pressure on developers to get work done faster and more cheaply, according to Black Duck President and CEO Lou Shipley. Google, he said, employs 21,000 developers but JPMorganChase employs nearly as many, at 19,000.

Shipley added that the future looks bright for continued open-source adoption with open-source at the heart of many of the day's hottest technologies.

"We see a big shift - especially as it relates to open-source and cloud computing - the Openstacks for orchestration, we see Docker is growing a lot, so it's that crossed with dev tools and leveraging the cloud that's kind of interesting," he said.

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