“We al­ways be­lieved that open source is here to stay”

OpenSource For You - - Contents -

Born and brought up in the cap­i­tal of India, Mukul Ma­ha­jan, di­rec­tor­sales, Tetra In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices (P) Ltd, started his ca­reer at Pertech Com­put­ers Lim­ited. But, as it is said, destiny has its own plans. The shut­ting down of Pertech pre­sented him with an op­por­tu­nity, be­cause he had al­ways yearned for more in­de­pen­dence in his pro­fes­sional life. So he em­barked on an en­tre­pre­neur­ial jour­ney, with open source as one of the key build­ing blocks of his busi­ness. In a tete-atete with Syeda Been­ish of OSFY, he shares the op­por­tu­ni­ties open source of­fers and how much ac­cep­tance it has earned in the mar­ket. Ex­cerpts… Early days

After com­plet­ing my B.Tech from Jaipur, I was able to suc­cess­fully grab a good op­por­tu­nity with Pertech Com­put­ers Lim­ited. I worked there for about five years. Though things were go­ing great, I felt that my life was not com­plete as I wanted to do some­thing on my own.

So I started my com­pany, Tetra In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices (P) Ltd, in 1995. Two friends of mine, Biswa­jeet and Deepa, joined my startup.

When open source started tak­ing off in the coun­try, we could see the po­ten­tial it had in the mar­ket. To be pre­cise, the open source move­ment started around 1998, i.e., 20 years back, and we got in­volved with it right away. We were in the hard­ware busi­ness, and were look­ing at busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties where we could avoid be­ing locked in with the OEMs, in or­der to be in di­rect con­nect with our cus­tomers. We could see that only open source would give us that op­tion. And, in the process, we also re­alised that it was a very cost-ef­fec­tive op­tion. So, we adopted it as part of our busi­ness of­fer­ings. We now feel that this was the best pro­fes­sional de­ci­sion we have taken. The motto of Tetra In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices is, ‘We pro­vide open source so­lu­tions for busi­ness needs’.

We sensed that open source had stay­ing power

Re­al­is­ing the po­ten­tial of open source, we knew that it was here to stay. So, at Tetra, we launched a mis­sion to pro­mote open source and take it closer to the cor­po­rates and SMEs. To do this, we started par­tic­i­pat­ing ac­tively in in­dus­try events con­ducted by or­gan­i­sa­tions like EFY, PHDCCI, etc.

The path we’d cho­sen was not an easy one! It was tough to con­vince peo­ple about the mer­its of open source and pro­pose so­lu­tions specif­i­cally meant for them. We had to con­vince cus­tomers about the long-term vi­a­bil­ity of the so­lu­tions.

Dur­ing the first few years, the big­gest chal­lenge was con­vinc­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions that open source is a vi­able so­lu­tion for them. Next, our ef­forts went into con­vinc­ing peo­ple to pay for open source. The two things that helped us to over­come these ob­sta­cles was our faith in the tech­nol­ogy and our per­sis­tence. We al­ways be­lieved that open source is here to stay, and that helped us to win cus­tomers over.

The essence of open source

Open source is not merely a tech­nol­ogy that is free. This was the mis­con­cep­tion we tried ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple about. Open source (OS) can be cat­e­gorised as pure OS and com­mer­cial OS. Pure OS is when the or­gan­i­sa­tion has an in­ter­nal team to main­tain its open source so­lu­tions. This team cus­tomises FOSS so­lu­tions to suit the needs of par­tic­u­lar de­part­ments or ver­ti­cals that need se­cured in­fra­struc­ture with­out ex­ter­nal man­age­ment. Com­mer­cial OS al­lows ex­ter­nal man­age­ment, where companies like us come into the pic­ture.

I agree that there are a lot of open source so­lu­tions that are avail­able for free down­load. But to en­joy their real ben­e­fits, firms need to de­velop their in­ter­nal ex­per­tise or seek ex­pert sup­port from the mar­ket. Also, de­vel­op­ing open source based prod­ucts means af­ford­able so­lu­tions to the cus­tomers. In my pitch, I al­ways make it clear that open source is not free but the most cost-ef­fec­tive or ‘value for money’ so­lu­tion. Of course, for tech­ni­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions like ours with in­ter­nal ex­per­tise, open source can still be free. If cus­tomers are ready to in­vest in in-house ex­per­tise, then open source be­comes free for them as well.

My re­la­tion­ship with open source

We have been as­so­ci­ated with open source through thin and thick. As shared ear­lier, our faith in open source kept us go­ing. The ini­tial few years were more about evan­ge­lis­ing, and within the firm, de­vel­op­ing so­lu­tions that we could mar­ket. At the same time, we at­tended events that pro­moted open source. After that, we had to de­ploy and give long-term sup­port for the so­lu­tions we im­ple­mented. So, over­all, the jour­ney was tough but our sat­is­fac­tion came from the ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge we gained.

I have not been a con­trib­u­tor of code but I have, in my own way, worked to­wards po­si­tion­ing open source, help­ing it gain mind­share across in­dus­tries. I love the com­mu­nity aspect of open source. The whole con­cept is so beau­ti­ful and pro­motes the shar­ing of knowl­edge. We are not in­volved

too much with the com­mu­nity, per se. I am more in­volved in the busi­ness de­ploy­ment side of it. In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the in­dus­try, the com­mu­nity can fur­ther pop­u­larise open source and make it main­stream. For me, open source is syn­ony­mous with free­dom.

The in­dus­try is wel­com­ing open source with open arms

After con­vinc­ing our cus­tomers in dif­fer­ent in­dus­tries about the ben­e­fits of open source, our next line of ac­tion was to help them ex­pe­ri­ence the agility of FOSS and the free­dom it of­fers users to do their own thing. The de­fence ver­ti­cal is pro pure open source, as this model of­fers users the free­dom to de­ploy so­lu­tions in their in­ter­nal net­works and tweak them as per their will. The gov­ern­ment has also adopted it to a cer­tain ex­tent. Most of the so­lu­tions get­ting de­ployed are on open source stacks. The BFSI in­dus­try has adopted it well too, and most of the so­lu­tions in this seg­ment work on open source tech­nolo­gies. In­dus­try is mov­ing more to­wards the cloud, which is based on a sub­scrip­tion model. Most of the un­der­ly­ing soft­ware on the cloud too are

built us­ing open source tech­nolo­gies. In ed­u­ca­tion and re­search, open source is main­stream, as it thrives on in­no­va­tion, which is the hall­mark of these two fields.

The fu­ture

What has kept me mo­ti­vated over the years is my dream of mak­ing India a hub, where open source based prod­ucts get de­vel­oped and we are recog­nised glob­ally as one of the sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tors in­stead of just be­ing con­sumers of open source.

Or­gan­i­sa­tions like Red Hat, Jasper, Vtiger, etc, are us­ing open source tech­nolo­gies, build­ing prod­ucts on top of them and pro­vid­ing OEM sup­ported open source prod­ucts. They have a huge mar­ket in the gov­ern­ment and BFSI sec­tors. There are a lot of or­gan­i­sa­tions mak­ing cloud-based prod­ucts us­ing open source tech­nolo­gies. For them also it is a vi­able busi­ness so­lu­tion, as it al­lows them to make prod­ucts with­out pay­ing any roy­al­ties to OEMs.

At a time when we are wit­ness­ing the mush­room­ing of star­tups across

India, thanks to the sup­port from our gov­ern­ment, we are also see­ing a num­ber of them us­ing open source ex­ten­sively in their IT in­fra­struc­ture. This is be­cause open source al­lows them to adopt tech­nol­ogy at a very low cost, which is es­sen­tial for their growth.

Last but not the least, for set­ups like ours, open source will re­main a vi­able propo­si­tion, as it al­lows us to of­fer so­lu­tions to SMEs at a very low cost, help­ing them to re­main prof­itable.

To pro­mote open source and take it closer to cor­po­rates and SMEs, we started par­tic­i­pat­ing ac­tively in in­dus­try events con­ducted by or­gan­i­sa­tions like EFY, PHDCCI, etc.

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