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Accelerating standards development via open source

Standards are critical in almost everything we do. Imagine if every electrical outlet in your home were different and each could only accept a particular plug — standards prevent that from happening. The need for interoperability is even more pronounced in the IT industry, where parts of systems like cloud, data, and AI must communicate with other parts to provide a viable solution for customers.

These solutions are constructed with a mix of open source and proprietary offerings, often transcending any one cloud platform. We call this pattern hybrid cloud. Studies showthat by 2023, organizations expect to be using at least 10 clouds from various vendors.

Globally accepted standards and specs are necessary to achieve this level of multi-vendor integration.

But, there’s a catch

Traditionally, to achieve this multi-vendor interoperability, specifications were developed collaboratively in international, national, or industry standards organizations such as ISO, ITU, IEEE, NIST, ANSI, ETSI, ECMA, OASIS, W3C, ACORD, AutoSAR, and so many others. However, delivering formal standards to the market could often take months or even years, stifling the rate of technology innovation.

Over the course of the past two decades, the pace of technology innovation has accelerated considerably, while maintaining levels of interoperability needed to satisfy the market. How is this possible? Open source.

I believe that the ever-increasing adoption of open source and its development processes has enabled this continued interoperability. When multiple vendors each adopt the same underlying open source platform for their implementations — for example, Kubernetes for container orchestration — they effectively establish a de facto standard, and the shared implementation yields interoperability.

However, many nations, such as China and countries in the EU, impose strict policies that require that software meet international standards. While open source development yields greater interoperability, it doesn’t meet the criteria of a globally accepted international standard.

Bringing standards development into the 21st century

Recently, both the Eclipse Foundationand OASISOpen moved their foundations to Europe, where open standards and specs are critical in the EU’s push for data privacy and transparency in development.

European countries are embracing open source because open technologies prevent vendor lock-in and enable transparent software design, creation, and processes. The EU’s technology strategy embraces a move to digital and an embrace of green technology—and open technologies support both of these transitions which will play a major role Europe’s recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

Open source foundations and communities are embracing the standards creation process, extending open source development practices to create a standard with a reference implementation that can then be ratified by a formal standards setting organization.  

A few examples include:

  • OASIS Open Projectseeks to combine the innovation and agility of open source development with the governance of open standards development to simplify and speed the process of creating de jure standards for open source projects. With Open Projects, communities can develop what they choose–APIs, code, specifications, reference implementations, guidelines– in one place, under open source licenses and processes, with a clear path to having the project recognized as a de jure standard in global policy and procurement.
  • The Community Specification process is a repository-based approach for creating standards and specifications in version control systems, such as Git. The Community Specification offers a standard template that includes all of the legal and governance assets required for standards and specification development so your project can quickly grow and scale  This specification was developed by the Joint Development Foundation (now part of the Linux Foundation).
  • The Eclipse Foundation Specification Process defines how projects can elevate their technology to be accepted as an international standard. With the Eclipse Foundation’s recent move to Europe, a major focus will be on developing and maturing this standards-creating approach to open source.

A new path to standards means better tech for everyone

What Eclipse, OASIS Open, the Linux Foundation’s JDF, and others have done is to create a path that allows teams to work in the open, following open source process and methods, to then advance a version of their work to be submitted to an international standards body for approval as a formally adopted de jure standard. This allows de jure standards to be developed and find market adoption at an open source time-scale.

The outcome? Innovation and interoperability that matters.

See also: Ian McLaren, CFO of the UK’s biggest rail network, on open source apps, serving TBs of data daily, and not having a CIO.

Christopher Ferris

Chris Ferris is CTO, Open Technology, IBM Cloud

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