I recently read Dave Roberts, VP of Strategy at Vyatta, post titled “Cisco: reducing costs with open source, pocketing profits” and it got me thinking.  Vyatta is a provider of open source networking products that compete with Cisco.

Dave writes:

“The fact that Cisco, or anybody, uses open source as an ingredient technology isn’t surprising. It’s a great way to reduce costs. The question is, do you, the user get any benefit from it?”

To be clear, Dave has no issue with vendors using open source in a proprietary product.  He does however suggest that some of the vendor derived benefits from using open source should be passed to customers.

Dave asks 5 questions that aim to quantify the customer benefit of their vendor using open source in a proprietary product.  Based on these 5 questions, Dave suggests that Cisco’s actions around open source are self serving and have little, if any, customer value.

I’m inclined to reach a slightly different conclusion.

When WebSphere stopped developing its own HTTP Server, and began to use the Apache Web Server, IBM did two things that helped the customer.  First, IBM took some of the folks working on IBM’s HTTP server and reassigned them to work on other features that have customer value.  This clearly helped IBM customers because the new features delivered by the reassigned engineers solved customer pain points.  Second, IBM ensured that some of the original HTTP server headcount was assigned to work on the Apache project as part of their IBM role.  This helped IBM and non-IBM customers alike by helping build out a more robust product at Apache.  IBM has used this approach for many components within IBM products.  It seems that Cisco is following step one from the IBM approach.

Sure, the use of open source has benefited Cisco’s bottom line.  But is it possible that Cisco’s customers have also benefited from new features faster as a result of Cisco engineers not having to work on “commodity” function?  I suspect the answer is yes.

What do you think?