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Open or Closed? Technology’s version of The Beatles vs. The Stones

Your preference for one band over the other speaks volumes about your personality. Do you prefer the band with blues in its DNA or the one with more pop standards in its repertoire? This debate was enough to divide men born only a few years apart.

A similar debate has raged on in the Silicon Valley since 1977: Open vs. Closed Architecture. While there have been periods in technology time where the issue was less pressing, today the matter is white hot again as new software platforms emerge around cloud computing. In fact, while the decision to go one direction versus the other is not as impactful today as it was in 1977, the issue has influenced many products since. And we’ve seen that the two philosophies can breed products that co-exist in some form of harmony, or at least in market opportunity.

Back in the 70s, the most public debate over this came in the form of hardware by the two founders of Apple. Steve Wozniak and the Homebrew Computer Club believed in open architectures (ports in those days) that would allow devices to be added easily by other engineers. Steve Jobs, meanwhile, was all about the control and optimization that he felt could only be achieved through closed architecture. Wozniak won the first battle and the Apple 1 computer had four ports. Yet Jobs won the war and built the company around the Macintosh, which had virtually no ports. And the rest is Silicon Valley history.

Today the battle continues between Linux and Windows, OLTP and closed transaction management systems (e.g. IBM CICS), the Internet and private networks, and Android and iOS, among others. And now it continues into the Cloud Platform wars.

The open source community is known for inspiring innovation and causing previously monolithic applications to become commoditized. Today, open source cloud platforms like Cloud Foundry,, OpenStack and Eucalyptus offer the promise of do-it-yourself clouds in a secure, private test lab before moving to either private cloud or public cloud.

Dan Kusnetzky recently wrote this thought-provoking blog post, Grocery vs. Restaurant, OpenStack vs. Amazon, which compares open and closed architectures to grocery stores and restaurants. An open source model is the grocery store, which provides users or shoppers the tools or ingredients to assemble their own meal. Closed architectures are restaurants: someone else selected the tools or ingredients and has packaged them into a meal.

All of this history begs the question: which is better? If history provides any indication, we’ll still be debating this issue for the unforeseeable future. Where do you weigh in?

Tom Lounibos

About the Author

Tom Lounibos

As CEO of SOASTA, Tom brings more than 30 years of experience building early stage software companies, leading two companies to successful IPOs. Tom is a regular speaker at both cloud and testing events, and has become a leading advocate in using the cloud to empower individuals and accelerate changes in how applications are built, tested and deployed. Most recently, Tom served as President and CEO of Kenamea. Prior to Kenamea, he was CEO of Dorado Corp., a financial services software provider. Previous to Dorado, he was EVP of Sagent Technology through its 1999 IPO, entrepreneur-in-residence at Crosspoint Venture Partners, and held executive positions at Digitalk Corp., Knowledgeware (KWI) and Encore Financial Services. Tom also serves on several boards in the Silicon Valley.