Until recently, the idea that one of the leading voices in the open source community would call Microsoft home would likely have raised a few eyebrows
As one of the featured speakers at this year’s Geektime Techfest in Tel Aviv, Ross Gardler, the Principal Program Manager at Microsoft’s Azure Container Services, spoke on stage about the future of where he sees open source moving forward.
Gardler is more qualified than most to speak about open source, given that he is also the president of the Apache Software Foundation, one of the core institutions supporting the open source community.
One of the key values that Gardler tells Geektime that he sees in the open source movement is its ability to allow for better development across the board.
“It’s all about the collaboration that enables cooperation and innovation across company borders,” he says. “This is particularly important because it’s not possible for any one company to have all of the answers. Open source is about building shared components that allow companies that may be competing in the marketplace to collaborate on those core components.”
Openness and collaboration beyond the walls is not exactly a time honored motto of Microsoft. Former CEO Steve Ballmer was famously critical of the open source Linux OS before eventually cooling his opposition.
In more recent years with the move towards the cloud and the advent of Azure, however, the team out in Redwood have warmed to open source, realizing the need for more open communication across the divides as technology moved into a new stage.
Further solidifying their more recent direction, with some arguing that they are the new cool and innovative kid on the block, Microsoft made waves when they very recently joined the Linux Foundation. Funnily enough though, Linux has been made a part of Azure for a number of years.
“In the cloud, it doesn’t matter what you are running,” Gardler tells Geektime, explaining the shift to a more open Microsoft approach. “It matters that you are running the customer’s workload. As Microsoft builds out Azure, it makes sense that we can run open source software since that’s what our customers want alongside traditional Microsoft products.”
Gardler points to Azure’s container service as a good example of engagement with open source. “We use open source to build the service, we contribute upstream to those projects, and we’ve open sourced our own Azure specific code for partners to build on,” he tells Geektime.
For all the change that he has helped make during his time since joining Microsoft back in 2013, it is also his work at Apache that is helping to lay the groundwork for the next generation of developers, making it a stronger and more inclusive environment.
“Apache is about getting people to come together, to contribute in what way they want to contribute as individuals, not as companies,” he told the audience during his talk. This is not to say that it is necessarily easy to work from both sides of the aisle, with him adding that, “When I speak with my Apache hat on, I don’t represent my employer and I can’t represent my employer.”
Asked where he sees open source having some of the most impact, Gardler points to the field of containers as one to watch.
He notes that even with the Docker image format, which has enabled collaboration across different feature sets, “It’s still very hard to bring individual pieces together into a production environment.”
“The challenge is to take all of those companies that are selling features and bring them together in a coherent whole,” he says, referring to many of the new services that help to support the container ecosystem for developers.
It is here and elsewhere in this continuously growing side of the developer world where Microsoft has a role to play.
“I think the largest IT company in the world engaging with open source in a highly productive way, really empowers the industry to innovate even faster through open source development models. Increased partnership in those projects is good for us all.”
“I was in Israel four years ago, explaining that Microsoft is serious about open source, and now four years on, I’m going to be on stage mentioning Israeli companies using open source on Azure. The promise of four years ago is real today.”