The Bigger Picture: On Sponsoring Open Source Projects

This is part of our Software Economy Series.

Intro

A couple of weeks ago, we released a product to make it easier to deploy and manage some open source projects like Gitlab or Discourse. We charge for our product and on the surface this looks like an attempt to use the goodwill of the open source community for our commercial ends. We think differently.

Here is why:

Not all money is created equally Recently we announced Cloud 66 EasyDeploy and we believe it will help open source projects. It is an easy way to make deployment and management of open source projects simple. You can use Cloud 66 to deploy EasyDeploy compatible open source projects to your own servers in the cloud.

As a commercial venture, we need to make money. We make money by charging a fee per server we deploy and manage per month.

So, if you use Cloud 66 to deploy a free open source discussion forum tool like Discourse to your servers, you will end up paying us a fee per month for deployment and management of those servers and here starts trouble: A company making money from open source, while claiming it is helping the open source community.

We get it! It is easy to see Cloud 66 EasyDeploy as a marketing tool to push Cloud 66 product to our audience and therefore be resistant to it.

However, I think this view in general is slightly simplistic as well as potentially harmful to open source and we would like to start a debate about it.

Many open source developers are happy to take a corporate sponsorship deal for their project. From Joyent and node.js to EnginYard sponsoring a wide range of open source projects it is a well known practice in the market.

Almost all of the sponsoring companies use those open source projects internally in their commercial product and make money from them.

The cost of sponsoring an open source project in a vast majority of cases is way below how much it would cost to fix bugs or develop features internally. This comes on top of the obvious premium brand advertisement and cool-credit that comes with those sponsorships.

We don’t have any issues with this arrangement. We, like many others benefit greatly from unsponsored open source projects and those sponsored by other companies and long may this continue as long as both parties of this agreement are happy and benefiting from it.

We however believe that sponsoring open source projects is not the only way commercial outfits can help open source projects. Open source is all about adoption and traction. A high quality source code that’s not used by anyone but its developers is a technical reference for software practices at best. That’s why documentation and support are crucial to adoption of a project. These are areas that do no excite most software developers much and perhaps why a very few open source projects have good documentation beyond code comments.

We are in the business of making software deployment and management easier and we think by making an open source project easier to deploy and manage, we can help it reach a wider audience, reduce the load of support tasks its developers have to take on and ultimately help it succeed. It is true that we benefit commercially from this, but that is no different from the very tangible commercial benefits of sponsoring an open source project.

For open source developers, we are reducing the support and documentation load by a great amount which no doubt helps them focus on doing more exciting things or simply have some free time to enjoy a cold bottle of beer paid for by their corporate sponsor!

We are seeing many open source developers moving forward from the simple corporate sponsorship or selling support model and considering the bigger picture of making it easier for a wider audience enjoy their awesome projects and we hope we can be some help in this process.

Khash Sajadi

Khash is the founder and CEO of Cloud 66, a full stack container management as a service. Follow him on @khash

London, UK and San Francisco, US
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