I spent some time last week talking with Dean Drako, CEO of Barracuda Networks. I'd wanted to talk with Dean for some time, as I've been an admirer of the company for many years. Barracuda recognized the strength of open source, and capitalized on it, well before most people were willing to even give open source a chance.
The conversation was particularly interesting because of Barracuda's announced intention to join the Open Invention Network, as well as some research it had done on perceived customer value for open source.
I started by asking Dean, Why do you care about open source?
All of our firewall and anti-spam appliances are based on Linux. We're big promoters and supporters of Linux. But we also utilize a lot of other open-source technologies in various other Barracuda products. As just one example, our anti-spam product has 12 layers of defense against spam, with two of those layers provided by open source: ClamAV (now part of Sourcefire) and Spam Assassin. Importantly, we don't just use open source - we give back to these communities, as we announced today relative to our contributions to the ClamAV and SURBL open source email protection projects.
Given Sourcefire's acquisition of ClamAV recently, does this help or hurt you?
It should help in that it will likely mean more resources spent developing ClamAV, which was somewhat lightly resourced before. Sourcefire has told us they plan to add development resources to the project. There is some concern that Sourcefire will close off parts of ClamAV for commercial purposes, but they've publicly stated that they won't go this route, so we're not too worried about it. At any rate, there are other alternatives out there, so it's not a big concern for us.
Has Barracuda always been involved in open source?
We started with the standard Linux kernel, but now we actually do a fair amount of customization to harden it, etc. We also started with more open-source layers in our products, but we've since had to build more of our own to better meet customer needs.
Why? When you have diverse people working on the same code to make it fit their varying environments, open source projects can become a bit bulky and buggy. We only need the software to work in one way, on one platform, so we spend time refining the code to remove all of the extra stuff. We're a bit of a hybrid model as a result.
Today you announced that Barracuda is joining the Open Invention Network (OIN). Why?
Because there's no Linux entity - no group - that could hold a set of defensive patents for Linux. OIN offers a way to centralize legal support for Linux.
We joined because we want to help protect Linux. OIN makes it difficult for a Microsoft to lightly sue over Linux intellectual property infringement - it's a multi-billion dollar question for them if they tread on Linux. Just imagine if we could get Apache and others to seek patents for defensive purposes.
Or consider the security world. We could have companies like Symantec suing those using open-source security software to slow the rise of free and open-source alternatives to their proprietary products. It's a very real threat, and would allow the bad guys (virus and spam creators, for example) to win simply so that these proprietary security companies could make more money.
This sounds great. Why not broaden OIN's charter to include open-source projects beyond Linux?
You've got to consider the OIN founders. Well, consider the founders: each has an interest in building its proprietary value around Linux/open source. These companies have little interest in abandoning their ability to defend their patents on these parts of their software stacks.
Barracuda will make a great addition to the OIN effort. As noted, I have a lot of respect for what Dean has done. He took a few random open-source projects and turned them into a multi-million dollar business. Open-source capitalism done well.