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MapReduce, Chubby and Hadoop

In short, Hadoop along with Lucene/Solr and the NoSQL data management tools represent an outright attack on traditional enterprise-grade, commercial-carrier solutions. IBM, for instance, is savvy and has embraced open source to reduce certain costs without compromising its ability to sell engineering support services and for-fee software that connects, extends or amplifies the basic functions of the open source solution. IBM and a handful of other companies have figured out how to comply with the open source community approach and build a business. Red Hat, Cloudera and Lucid Imagination are three firms that have built solid businesses via open source.

Long-march approach

My view is that Google is committed to open source software. The reason is that as open source gains momentum, Google weakens some of its staunchest competitors in the enterprise market. Instead of attacking one outfit head on, Google seems to take a five-year or long-march approach. As commercial solutions face increased competition, Google can selectively target specific business opportunities.

I no longer doubt Google’s commitment to open source. The reason is that Google has made its Android operating system available as open source. Although there are risks associated with forks in Android, the benefit of the approach is that Google can gain “shelf space” without spending much on marketing. Who can beat free? Android is available on a range of devices. They include mobile phones that Motorola seems committed to burn into my brain every time I watch a television program to set top boxes that promise a personalized television guide. Apple and Microsoft will have to find a way to blunt Android. Nokia already is struggling to maintain its revenues, and further disruption in mobile and embedded device markets is a certainty.

The irony

The downside to Google’s approach is that Google may find itself fighting a company using Google-inspired technology. Facebook is a good example. Mark Zuckerberg has hired Xooglers (former Google employees) and uses some open source software. Google, as I write this, has no current product that puts Facebook at a competitive disadvantage. Microsoft invested more than $200 million in Facebook in 2007. Google, on the other hand, suggested that it would have its own Facebook-type product sometime in 2010. If Google’s next Facebook killer follows the trajectory of Google Buzz, Google will be in a unique position. Its own open source initiatives have put steel in the backbone of a competitor like Facebook.

The irony is delicious. Google’s open source efforts and former Google employees become the nemesis of Google. That’s one of the risks of what I call the ultimate Red Bull-charged air race—“the open source card.” Google may not be playing solitaire. In Google’s high-stakes race, open source-centric companies may win a trophy and a series of races. Although hard to accept, Google could be an also-ran. Open source is disruptive, and Google’s open source tactics may lack the horsepower to power to victory after victory

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