JOHN TERPSTRA: TURBOLINUX & THE OPEN SOURCE MOVEMENT

November 8, 2000

by Steven Witucki, assistant editor

Dallas, Texas — The Open Source Software community is turning much of the information technology world upside down. What are the key developments that will impact the supercomputing environment?

John Terpstra, Vice President of Community Relations for TurboLinux, Inc., recently spoke with HPCwire regarding Linux and the Open Source Software movement.

HPCwire: What are some of the ways that the Open Source Software movement is going to affect the supercomputing industry?

TERPSTRA: Open Source Software development is attracting hugh numbers of he brightest and most capable developers. The new wave is motivated my a vision of unfettered opportunity to extend the work of others, rather than being forced to re-invent solutions because when the code is closed behind lock and key. The Open Source Software movement is propelled by the concept that the greater the number of developers that are applied to a freewill project, the more shallow it’s problems become.

All it will take for an Open Source Software solution to an IT problem or opportunity to emerge is time. As each area of development receives attention the movement is compelled to engineer newer and more far reaching developments.

There are already Open Source Software development projects for nearly every area of high performance, high availability, high scalability computing. Highly scalable, high availablity, storage technology is also being worked on.

Much of the work that is being done is focussed on cost effectiveness and hence is targetted at maximum hardware re-use. The net effect is that the Open Source Software movement is certain to radically reduce the cost of supercomputing aqnd thus to ensure more rapid market expansion.

It should be noted that so long as the market research industry continues to measure the size of the market in terms of capital expended the Open Source Software market will continue to be underestimated. This assures the Open Source Software movement of more time to tool up and to mobilze it’s dedicated workers, while the conventional proprietary supercomputing market continues to work towards it’s ultimate accountability.

HPCwire: Will Linux be the Open Source Software of choice? Why or why not?

TERPSTRA: Yes, most certainly. No-one knows for certain how many Open Source Software developers there are today. I have heard estimates ranging from 280,000 to over 600,000 person equivalents today. Take into account that many Open Source Software developers do not on their project of choice to get paid, but genuinely just for the benefit of all. Remember also, that for any Open Source code to survive it has to withstand peer review that can (often is) more brutal than any employer could get away with!

To understand the inertia that the Open Source Software development initiative has one need only to look at the rate at which software updates are being released. Look at sites like http://www.sourceforge.com , http://www.freshmeat.net and check the statistics and project updates / new project announcement rate over the past year and it is clear that something big is happening. So big in fact, that it is inconceivable that this phenomenon will do anything other than continue to grow.

The term “Linux” encapsulates all that is happening in the Open Source Software community. Nearly every major development is takning place on Linux.

HPCwire: What can Information Technology companies do to be ready for the changes from the Open Source movement?

TERPSTRA: IT companies are already coming to the conclusion that many recent IT graduates are Open Source Software savy. IT management can no longer ignore Open Source. Every software development project, every software acquisition initiative, every IT problem must now be examined in the light of the economics of the Open Source Software development model. The sceptics who still promote the fear of doom and gloom concerning support and problem resolution are being proven wrong. It is not necessary (even perhaps undesirable) to have an individual or company that can be sued when software does not work as required.

HPCwire: What are the most dramatic changes being made (or about to be made) by the Open Source movement?

TERPSTRA: For the first time in the history of the IT industry, the economic barriers to software portability across platforms are being radically removed. Code re-use is being extended to an extent that was not possible in a world of closed source code.

The whole issue code licensing is being re-evalutated. Proprietary closed source code today is the equivalent of restricting and licensing the use of the horse and the horse bridle in the middle ages. Had that happend we would likely not be here today. Western civilization has traditionally had an open disposition towards the deployment of technology that has enabled the west to grow as it has. The Open Source Software movement is in many ways a return to basics. It is a revival movement.

HPCwire : During your presentation at SC2000, you will talk about “how the Open Source community addresses the process of problem identification and resolution.” Please briefly discuss this.

TERPSTRA: New projects generally start small. A project that is interesting, or one that addresses a need that is in an area of high demand will attract new participants rapidly. In starting a new project, a discussion group usually starts throwing around ideas. Soon a group concensus will begin to emerge and then the group will demand the start of an implementation. More often than not a group will form around an initial implmentation of a solution to a problem.

When the group identifies a serious limitation in either design or in it’s implmentation there are no obstacles to radical re-engineering if that is needed to solve the problem. Such work generally demands the maintenance of full backwards compatibility also.

The key principal of the Open Source Software movement though is this: “If you have an idea – show us your code!” This method has a powerful way of filtering out the dross. Peer review and peer feedback have a massive impact on project viability and sustainabiltiy.

HPCwire : How does the Open Source movement plan to deal with the problem of security?

TERPSTRA: Standards! Standards! And peer code review. Because code weaknesses and poor code can not be hidden since the code is available for review, obscure code weaknesses are often found and fixed before an exploit is available. The Open Source Software community is united about the need for open publicly reviewed standards as well as open source code review of how standards are implemented.

Security is a problem when the user finds a problem and then has no access to the source code, nor to any sypathetic developer who may want to fix the problem.

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