Franz Karlsberger ADT podcast cover
Episode: 126

Franz Karlsberger - Navigating the Challenges of Building a Business on Open Source

Posted on: 14 Mar 2024
Franz Karlsberger ADT podcast cover

Franz Karlsberger is the CEO of the developer focused open-source application delivery and hosting platform amazee.io.

In this episode, we talk about navigating the challenges of building a successful business based on open-source technologies, with Franz sharing his first-hand experiences of leading amazee.io as well as his tips for making sense of the abundant landscape of different open-source software solutions.

 

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Transcript

"What you also can do if you want to bring open source technology into your organization, come up with an open source champion program where you can highlight certain peers in your organization who are adopting open source or contributing to open source projects. So that really can help to drive enthusiasm and mentorship."

Intro:
Welcome to the Agile Digital Transformation Podcast, where we explore different aspects of digital transformation and digital experience with your host, Tim Butara, content and community manager at Agiledrop.

Tim Butara: Hello everyone. Thanks for tuning in. I'm joined today by Franz Karlsberger, CEO of the developer focused open source application delivery and hosting platform, amazee.io. In today's episode, we'll be discussing how to navigate the challenges of building a successful business based on open source technologies. And Franz will be sharing some of his firsthand experiences of leading amazee. 

Franz, welcome to the show. We're very glad to have you joining us today here. Anything you'd like to add before we jump in? 

Franz Karlsberger: Tim, first of all, thank you from my side for having me on the show. I I'm following your podcast for a while already and yeah, now it's super exciting actually to be on the podcast itself and, happy to share some of the lessons learned and the benefits of the challenges, which we were facing since actually incepting amazee.io a couple of years back.

Tim Butara: Awesome. I'm always happy to hear that guests are already followers of the podcast. I think it adds a special touch to it. And from what I heard also, not from just conversations from your own team members, but also like other people in the Drupal community, I've heard nothing but praise for the amazee platform. So, happy to have you here and let's dive right in. So what would you say are the chief benefits of building open source over proprietary software? 

Franz Karlsberger: That's a very good question. That's actually a question which we hear very often in the market, in the ecosystem. And of course there are benefits for both, but to understand why we chose the open source way, we really also need to go back a little bit and how amazee.io was created and where we are coming from. 

And our early days are actually not starting as an... hosting platform itself. We were actually born out of a web agency called Amazee Labs, which used Drupal. And I think to the audience here, Drupal is of course, well known. We all know what is Drupal. It's an open source content management system. 

And, out of those necessities that we were actually deploying those Drupal elements and websites onto hosting providers, which gave us less flexibility. We said, okay, we need to build this our own, and coming out of the Drupal ecosystem, we also said, okay, if we want to build this, we want to build it the open source way. And the reasons why are very obvious. 

And to start with is of course, it's all about transparency and trust. So by making source code actually accessible to everyone, the users can audit and inspect the software for vulnerabilities, for malicious code, or any other behavior. And when working with previous vendors, okay, we were actually always lacking that transparency. We were developers by heart. 

So we really wanted to understand what's going on under the scene, we wanted to inspect, and therefore that was one reason why really when we said, okay, we are creating a platform of our own, we want to make sure that there is this transparency and everybody actually can look at it, can inspect it, and also understands a little bit better.

The other reason why we also said, okay, it's all about open source, it's really the promotion of open standards. So, open source software really encourage the use of open standards, which promotes actually the interoperability and prevents any vendor lock-in. So if you have open source software, okay, just no vendor lock.

And then I think that's a huge benefit by not only building open source software, but by also using and offering open source software. Of course, from a business perspective, you try to lock companies still, of course, to your solution, but we do this not via our platform or the software. We rather do this by our customer centric approach where we really don't want that anyone is leaving us. But if a customer decides to run the platform on themselves because they have the capabilities, okay, they can do it because the platform itself is open source. 

Tim Butara: I think you mentioned the exact three things that I had in mind about this. So transparency, trust, which are already super important, not just in open source, but in tech in general, especially if we consider the like black box nature of a lot of new and emerging AI tools, but also I think for me, one of the unique selling points is vendor lock in, right? If you consider something proprietary, yes, you get the quick start, you get a lot of good support, you get a lot of nice feature developments, but those feature developments are kind of dependent on, you know, what vendor themselves choose. And if you want to switch because you want some additional features, then there's the plethora of issues with vendor lock ins. So great intro right here, Franz. 

Okay. So for the next question, maybe to ask you about some of your personal experiences, what have been the biggest challenges that you've experienced at amazee.io as an open source rather than a proprietary company?

Franz Karlsberger: If you don't mind, I would rather really expand on that question even further and say, okay, it's not only about amazee.io and what the challenges we have been facing by actually building a company around open source, but I think what is more or can be also interesting is, and it's true for both use cases, actually, is, okay, what are challenges in general when you are adopting open source technology? And that's even if you use it or if you build it. And I basically, after the last couple of years being in that ecosystem, I've identified five key areas.

One is, it's all about license management and compliance. The second topic is about security concerns. The third one is about support on longevity of open source projects. The fourth one is integration and compatibility, and the fifth one is about cultural shift and internal resistances. And, as I said, this can be applied for organizations who are building open source technologies.

And we ourself, we build open source technology, but also under the hood, we use all those open source projects. So every single component, which we amazee.io offer as our platform, are open source projects, which are somehow out there in the wild. And, as I said, this brings a lot of complexity within itself because you constantly actually need to monitor the ecosystem.

You need to be aware of any CVEs, you need to make sure, okay, are all the security patches actually updated? How do you actually deal with integrations, or what if one of your open source projects, which you're using on your platform or in your product is actually no longer maintained? So how you deal with those situations. And, yeah, for all of those five challenges, which I've mentioned, okay, we processes in place, we have tooling in place to make sure that we minimize actually the risk that anything is failure.

Tim Butara: So what are some of those processes and toolings that are helping you to take care of those challenges and what does your situation look like with regards to all of those? 

Franz Karlsberger: So maybe let's start with the license management and compliance. I think this is a really, really hot topic and really one which actually topped actually the discussions last year. So, license management is very, very important, especially if you use open source software, because what we have seen actually last year, in 2023, that some companies out there actually decided that they changed the licensing model. 

And I'm referring here to the HashiCorp situation where they really changed from the Mozilla public license version 2.0 to a business source license version 1.1, which is considered source available, but not open source in the traditional sense. So when you're leveraging... what does this mean? So when you're leveraging open source tooling, really be aware of those implications. 

Nevertheless, what make me very optimistic actually, and I'm an open source advocate is how the entire community reacted last year to that change, because immediately you saw the community coming together and said, okay, hey, let's fork this, what is still open source available and come up with an own project. And this is where we have seen the launch of OpenTofu, which I think is now even adopted in the CNCF foundation. So there's always the power of the community to actually somehow fight back and come up with still an open source solution if someone actually decides to change the licenses. 

And what we are doing is we are really rigorously checking those licenses, making sure that we have a repository, knowing, okay, what type of software are we using, what type of open source projects, so that we are prepared, actually, when there are any changes. And I think this also comes to one of the other challenges I've mentioned is about longevity.

So of course, if you build your business on... because you're using open source technology or open source projects, you always need to make sure, okay, to look for potential alternatives, because, as I said in the intro, what if, if someone actually decided or decides to abandon a certain open source project, okay, if you depend on it, because you build a business on top of it, that is basically a risk for your own organization.

Therefore, what I'm advising business owners or founders is, ok, be very active in the ecosystem, look for alternatives, look and try to understand, anticipate trends so that you then can make conscious decisions on, okay, which alternative could you bring in into your tooling by replacing it, and maybe abandon an open source project?

Tim Butara: I think one of the strongest points here was the importance of community involvement in like the health of an open source project. Right? Because this is what it's supposed to be at heart. If it's open source, it should be driven by a community rather than by some company that's kind of masquerading it as open source, but actually making it in a very proprietary kind of fashion. So yeah, great point there. 

And another thing that I wanted to talk about today with you, Franz, is the shift in the company culture. Is that important to building a strong open source foundation? And if so, why is it important? 

Franz Karlsberger: I definitely believe that you need to have that open source mindset. So if you want to operate in that ecosystem, you need to be an advocate in the open source community. You need to also support this by actively allowing also your teams to contribute to open source projects. You need to really have that ethos and... 

Amazee.io, when we started, okay, we came out of the open source ecosystem already. As I said, we were very active in the Drupal ecosystem that was open source per se, so we didn't have really any

questions, there were no doubts in the team that the future platform, which we were building, the amazee.io platform, will be open source, that was out of question. And therefore it was easy to win the team on that strategy. 

Of course, if you're operating an open source environment, you of course need to make sure that there's still a commercial viable offer out there. So you need to find a way on how you still, of course, fund your team, fund your organization. And, yeah, this is what the open source ecosystem anyhow, also was very interested since the inception, actually, to find commercialization models. Is it either a managed service which you're providing, or is it some training which you're providing? There are different models actually out there which have been successful. 

But if you are in that process, or if you are an open source advocate in your organization, but you may be seeing some restrictions, what are areas on how you can convince someone by really adopting open source technology? And, I think areas of what you can try at least to do, you can, of course learn about those platforms. So really go out there, look at those courses, which use open source technology and train yourself so that you can convince maybe your boss about using a particular open source project. 

Then what you also can do if you want to bring open source technology into your organization, come up with an open source champion program where you can highlight certain peers in your organization who are adopting open source or contributing to open source projects. So that really can help to drive enthusiasm and mentorship.

And as I said, amazee.io, we never had that problem of being active in the community. And just prior that podcast today, in preparation, I also asked the team, hey, what are some of the open source projects you guys are currently, next to, of course, Lagoon, our own open source project, contributing? And they had an entire list of more than 50 open source projects, including Kubernetes, Ansible, Drupal, OpenSearch, FluentD, Helm, and others. 

So, if you, it's not just, as I always say, it's not just lipstick on a pick. If you really want to do open source, you also need to actively live it within your organization. You can't then prohibit your people or restrict this that they are contributing to other projects as well. 

Tim Butara: So the best approach would be some kind of balance between top down and bottom up.

Franz Karlsberger: I think the open source world lives from a bottom up approach. It's all about the community. And this is where we see actually the most success. And of course, if you as an organization decide that you go open source, it needs to be fully supported by the management. 

Because, we have seen the HashiCorp situation. Okay. Then at a certain point, someone else, some stakeholders, when you become such an important part of an industry already, okay, then some other stakeholders are starting and asking for changes. And, yeah, let's see how it plays out. So we still don't know. I think they made a great foundation on actually starting those initiatives, but we will see what the future will tell us, if their, now the communication strategy, actually plans out for them or not.

Tim Butara: And Franz, the last question I have for you today, before we start kind of bringing the conversation to a close. What would be your main tips for leaders to successfully navigate the more and more complex and abundant landscape of these different open source solutions? 

Franz Karlsberger: That's a very, very good question. And actually not an easy one to answer because the open source landscape is vast. It's, really, it's, even now with, especially with Kubernetes, you're seeing a wide variety. You see the huge ecosystem. 

And staying ahead of the curve, that's not easy, but I think what is really, really important, you need to be very curious. You need to understand what's going on in the industry. You need to stay informed, be very active, try to engage with those communities. Because, if you engage with other leaders, you see, okay, where are some directional path which may bring the end to a certain open source projects and may advance another one.

And yeah, Kubernetes is a very good example. So, now around for almost eight, nine years, okay, it is widely adopted and it brought a vast variety of an ecosystem. And so be in there, talk to people, anticipate changes and look broader beyond just your tooling, which you're currently using, you really need to look beyond. 

And as said, I think it's all about openness. It's all about transparency. And that brings me back actually to the benefits of open source as well. It's all about transparency. It's all about community driven trust. And, yeah, this is then how you can prosper as an organization. 

Tim Butara: Man, that was such a great circle back to the intro of the conversation. Such a great note to finish on, some awesome tips and insights right here at the end, Franz. If listeners would like to learn more about you, learn more from you, connect with you, where can they do that? 

Franz Karlsberger: So the easiest way, of course, is go to amazee.io and shoot me an email or go on LinkedIn, connect there with me. So that's my most active social network. And yeah, I'm happy to engage with many of the listeners looking forward to learn more, learn more about what's going on in the ecosystem, hear your thoughts about my perspective. And, thanks to you again, Tim, for having me on the podcast and for inviting me.

Tim Butara: Likewise, Franz. Thanks for joining us. It's been a pleasure. And to our listeners, that's all for this episode. Have a great day, everyone, and stay safe. 

Outro:
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