Walmart president and CEO Doug McMillon Speaking at the 2015 Walmart shareholders meeting.

Image: Walmart

Sigh. Another day, another useless open source project.

This time it’s Walmart, open sourcing its cloud technology to compete with Amazon Web Services (AWS). But, as David Linthicum writes, it’s open source for all the wrong reasons.

More pertinently, it’s open source in all the wrong ways.

Open source and a prayer

Walmart’s move is confusing for a few reasons.

For one thing, isn’t this the same Walmart that has been doubling down on OpenStack? Granted, as I’ve heard from insiders, OpenStack has been somewhat of a poisoned chalice for Walmart, but why release a competitor to OpenStack even as you’ve publicly committed to it?

Also, it’s not clear why would-be users should care. As Linthicum writes, this is mostly about thwarting Amazon:

For Walmart, this is all about putting a dent in the growth of its major rival Amazon has been giving Walmart fits on the retail side for the last decade. Now Walmart is moving the battle to the cloud, with Walmart basically declaring that Amazon Web Services means cloud lock-in that enterprises can avoid if they use the open source Walmart technology instead.

But as AWS adoption clearly shows, very few enterprises share this concern.

Rather, they’re racing as fast as they can to put more and more workloads into AWS, with GE proclaiming from the re:Invent stage that it’s decommissioning 30 of its 34 data centers, and moving 9,000 workloads to AWS.

So, Walmart wants to tout freedom to an audience that simply doesn’t care. But, this also has to do with how Walmart is suggesting freedom.

What freedom means

At AWS re:Invent earlier this month, Amazon executives took to the stage to declare the seven basic freedoms that come with its public cloud. “Freedom to get in and out of the cloud quickly!” was one, and “freedom to migrate” was another.

Open source freedom didn’t make the list. Nor were there hazy calls for “freedom from lock-in.”

And rightly so. As Apprenda executive Chris Guan told me, customers value stuff that works more than “tertiary IT philosophy concerns.”

While some will find AWS “freedoms” to be a hollow sham, Tim O’Reilly has been preaching this same gospel for years. As O’Reilly argues, “freedom” isn’t a bumper sticker guaranteed by a license, but rather a more complicated calculus of convenience, cost, and standards:

There’s a pragmatic open and there’s an ideological open. And the pragmatic open is that it’s available. It’s available in a timely way, in a non-preferential way, so that some people don’t get better access than others… When the cost is low enough, it does in fact create many of the same conditions as a commons.

With this in mind, consider Walmart’s open source cloud.

First of all, the code isn’t even available, and won’t be until sometime in 2016. That’s hardly cause to push pause on current plans to use AWS.

Second, there’s nothing “open” about Walmart’s code beyond its (eventual) license. Unlike OpenStack, no one outside Walmart knows the code. So Walmart is basically asking developers to invest a huge amount of time getting up to speed on its code (once it ships), with a nonexistent community available to help.

That, to me, sounds like the worst kind of lock-in.

Not another cloud!

We didn’t need another open source cloud. We’ve had a few, and none of them are really challenging the closed-source convenience of AWS or Microsoft Azure. Maybe, just maybe, Walmart’s cloud is awesome. But, we’ve had awesome before (Cloudstack), and without a strong community behind it, great technology is essentially worthless.

We’ve been through years of companies open sourcing vanity projects, throwing code over the wall in the mad hope that someone will care. But, they don’t care. Unless there’s a vibrant community around a project, it’s hard for it to attract enough attention to get used.

Meanwhile, the clouds that are driving adoption aren’t really focused on freedom in the open source way. Instead they’re focused on developer productivity. And that increasingly means public cloud.

So, save yourself the bother, Walmart, and keep your code. The future is public cloud, and no one seems to care that it is “closed.”

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Walmart goes to war with Amazon over open source