GitHub growth points to open source's enterprise acceptance

Every day 10,000 new users sign up for GitHub, an online repository for open source projects that already has 2.8 million members.

Those users create 25,000 new repositories each day, adding to the 4.6 million already on the site.

Founded in 2008, the site saw a 133% growth in users in 2012 and a 171% increase in repositories.

The meteoric growth of GitHub, some say, points to the vibrancy of the open source world in technology right now. Once seen as a series of pet projects, now open source is not just big money for big businesses -- Red Hat is the first billion-dollar open source company -- but it has gained the credibility of enterprises, causing what some call a shift in attitudes toward open source, both by business leaders and developers.

"Interest in open source software has in many respects need been higher," says Stephen O'Grady, founder and analyst at research firm RedMonk.

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GitHub has expanded this process, by making coding social. "It's better to work together than to work alone," GitHub wrote in a blog post announcing the year-end numbers. By developing software on GitHub, you're making it easy for 2.8MM people to help you out."

Alan Shimel, co-founder and managing partner at The CISO Group and a Network World blogger, says he sees a "second golden age" of open source right now. A first burst, driven by Linux, MySQL and other technologies broke open source on to the enterprise radar in the 1990s. Now, open source projects have just exploded -- from Android to OpenStack, Hadoop, MongoBD and others. "There's this second batch of monster, huge open source projects," he says.

Even more so than these budding open source projects, is the acceptance the projects have gained within the enterprise. "There's no stigma against open source projects," Shimel says. "It's with corporate blessing now that open source comes through the front door and not the back door."

Floyd Strimling, a VP of community at open source management company Zenoss, says that has perhaps been the biggest change for open source projects. "Large organizations are allowing their employees to contribute to open source projects now," he says. "That's huge."

Take OpenStack, for example: Major tech companies, from Rackspace to HP and Dell, are all embracing open source as a business operating model. The general idea, Strimling says, is for these companies to take the open source projects, like OpenStack, and innovate on top of them. Perhaps 80% of the core is the same among the companies, and the 20% that's different is the value-add the businesses provide.

That could create some interesting scenarios moving forward, though. What if Rackspace is wildly successful with OpenStack but HP is not, for example? Will HP continue to support and contribute to a project that Rackspace is benefitting from? "What happens when someone else starts making a lot of money?" Strimling says. He's not too worried about it, though. Open source projects, if they are good, outlive the companies supporting them. Red Hat, despite being $1 billion in revenue, is not bigger than Linux.

Despite all the attention projects like OpenStack and Hadoop are receiving, Shimel says they both still have a long way to go. "They're big on promise, short on real examples," he says. If any project has a future, though, it's likely one that has the backing of such big-name companies as Rackspace, Red Hat, HP, Dell, IBM, Cisco and VMware, like OpenStack does. "There's a lot of smart money invested in those projects."

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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