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Understanding Intel’s Commitment To Open Source, Dedication To Open Ecosystem

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Guests: Mark Skarpness (LinkedIn, Twitter)
Melissa Evers (LinkedIn, Twitter)
Company: Intel  (LinkedIn, Twitter)
Show: Let’s Talk

Intel has been one of the leading contributors to open source for a very long time. Recently, Pat Gelsinger, Intel’s CEO, penned a letter on LinkedIn about their dedication to the open ecosystem. But what does Intel mean when they say “open ecosystem?” According to Melissa Evers, VP, Software and Advanced Technology Group, & GM, Strategy to Execution at Intel, the “notion of open competition, open platform, is inherent in the way that the ecosystem has been built, the way that the ecosystem continues to transform and the role that Intel has played in enabling that success and transformation.”

At its core, Intel knows engaging with the open-source community is the key to success. To that, Mark Skarpness, VP & GM,  System Software Engineering at Intel, kicked off the discussion by saying, “In general, being in the community, being a good member of the open-source community, contributing, bringing the community forward, not as an outside player trying to influence, but being in the community and having our engineers deeply involved in working on advancing the kernel or many other open-source projects that we work in…that’s really the way to be an effective member and advocate for the open-source developers.”

Nowadays open-source developers are on the payrolls of companies around the world. On this topic, Skarpness had this to say, “There’s always this balance of my company’s interest, the community’s interest. I think we’ve really worked hard to create our own developers, a culture that gives them the freedom to work in the community, to serve the community interests and really contribute back for the broader good of the project.”

OneAPI is an important project which essentially envisions an open platform competition. On this matter, Evers says, “The world today is kind of locked in a set of proprietary verticalized, services and capabilities. And we don’t think that services the ecosystem well. We believe that letting people compete based upon the true nature of the value created is essential for the future of innovation. And so oneAPI is essentially a collection of open-source based specifications, as well as open-source components that we have productized in the oneAPI product offering that was announced.”

The summary of the show is written by Jack Wallen

Topics we covered in this interview:

  • How would you define an open ecosystem?
  • How does Intel plan to engage with open-source developers at a very authentic level?
  • Now most open-source developers are on the payrolls of companies. mMost open source code these days is written in company time., hHow has that changed your engagement with open-source communities?
  • The market is changing with new architectures and even emergence of edge data centers. How is that changing dynamics transformingchanging Intel’s engagement with partners?
  • Plans Intel has with oneAPI 2022.

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Swapnil Bhartiya: Hi, this is your host Swapnil Bhartiya and welcome to TFiR: Let’s Talk. And today we have two guests from Intel. Mark Skarpness, VP and GM of System Software Engineering at Intel and Melissa Evers, VP and GM of Strategy to Execution at Intel. Melissa, Mark, it is great to have you both on the show.

Mark Skarpness: Hey, thanks. Great to be here.

Melissa Evers: Very excited to be here.

Swapnil Bhartiya: And today’s topic is something which is close to my heart as well, of course, which is open-source, open ecosystem. And Intel’s CEO, Pat (Patrick Paul Gelsinger), he recently penned a very powerful piece on LinkedIn to talk about Intel’s dedication to open ecosystem. I want to go into detail of what do you folks mean by your dedication to open ecosystem, but before we go there, Melissa, can you please explain what do you folks mean by open ecosystem? How would you define it?

Melissa Evers: Well, Intel’s history is born on the innovation that happens through open platforms, open innovation and horizontal competition in the notion that the best platform wins. Whether we’re competing at the hardware level, the operating system level, through the layers of the software stack, enabling developers to innovate and drive the future of technology, is best achieved when it’s an open playing field. And so that notion of open competition, open platform, is inherent to the way that the ecosystem has been built, the way that the ecosystem continues to transform and the role that Intel has played in enabling that success and transformation.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Excellent. Now, let’s talk about open-source. We all know that open-source developers, they don’t like a lot of fluff. They just want to solve core problems. They care about the code. They care about the quality of code. They care about licensing, all those things. They don’t like a lot of fluff and marketing. It’s also, there are many open-source projects which are kind of famous or infamous for not having any marketing strategy. Sometimes a lot of open-source developers, they want to distance themself from marketing because there is some misconception also about marketing. There’s a different thing altogether, but it is really challenging to earn respect from open-source developers. So, can you share, what strategy do you have or how do you plan to engage with open-source developer community at a level where they do see that your efforts are authentic, is not yet and the marketing gimmicks, because the fact is that Intel, you folks have been doing open-source for a very, very long time, so let’s talk about it.

Mark Skarpness: I can start, I think, like you said, we’ve been for example, in the Linux kernel community for as long as it’s existed really, and continue to be one of the top contributors. And I think, in general, being in the community, being a good member of the open-source community, contributing, bringing the community forward, not as an outside player trying to influence, but being in the community and having our engineers deeply involved in working on advancing the kernel or many other open-source projects that we work in, that’s really the way to be an effective member and advocate for the open-source developers is to be them. We have many open-source developers at Intel doing that.

Melissa Evers: Yeah, I would echo what Mark said. I think not only being a member of the community, demonstrating our commitment to upstreaming our work, participating in the genesis of new components and new capabilities within projects, but also just collaborating with the ecosystem and creating new products and projects. Intel has given birth to a lot of things. If you look at our history, from Yocto to SOF to… You pick the layer of the software stack. As Mark mentioned, we’ve been in the Linux community in the kernel for, since it’s inception, but all the way down through to UEFI and the BIOS and Firmware levels, all the way up through drivers, all the way up through microservices, etc., from endpoint, all the way to data center. Intel plays in over 200, 250 projects across the ecosystem. And it’s through contributions. It’s not through consumption.

It’s through meeting in the community, working on the challenges, looking at what the future holds, what are the technologies that are needed in order to bear forth the future of innovation, and then figuring out how we can enable that successfully, that’s where you earn influence and engagement is through your commitment, through your developers, through your code. They are the agents of our change.

Swapnil Bhartiya: I just want to discuss something more, which is that, the landscape has also changed. The way we, consumer are engaged with open-source has also changed. Because of cloud, a lot of things have changed. A lot of developers nowadays, they are on the payroll of companies. They’re like, even Linux foundation come up with report, the number of contributors at Linux kernel, they are like mostly getting paid to do the job. It’s not they don’t turn to Linux knights at nighttime and they do something else in the day job, which also means that the rules of engagements are also changing because a lot of these developers actually are working in their company times. So, how have you seen the open-source ecosystem has changed and evolved because you have to also change your strategy to engage with them because sometimes CLA’s can become an issue, a lot of things are there, so can you share some insights on that?

Mark Skarpness: Yeah. There’s always this balance of my company’s interest, the community’s interest, I think we’ve really worked hard to create our own developers, a culture that gives them the freedom to work in the community, to serve the community interests and really contribute back for the broader good of the project. But, we also have work that we’re doing to enable our new platforms as we bring out new products. There’s kernel enabling, for example, that we’re doing. So, there’s always that balancing act of, I’m in the community and I need to be a good member of that community and participate for the greater community good. And, it’s okay to also bring along, “Hey, we’ve got a great new server platform coming out and we want to make sure it’s fully enabled.” And if you strike the right balance between being a good community member and also doing the work that brings new product support into the kernel, for example, I think we found that that works well.

If you swing too far to, I’m only going to serve my own interests and I’m not going to think about broader needs of the community, that can become a problem. And that’s something we’re always paying attention to. Are we striking the right balance and giving our engineers the freedom to do the right balance of both, so that they’re good community members.

Melissa Evers: I would also add that our role, Intel’s role or reputation in the community, is a bit of a neutral broker because almost all of those folks you’re talking about, are customers or partners, or part of our value chain in some form or fashion, right? So, it’s not we’re really close with one and not really close with another. They’re all partners and friends in these communities and ecosystems, and really trying to understand what are the strategic intents of all these different corporations, their engagements in the community.

And then what [inaudible 00:07:37] there are folks that aren’t part of those corporations, that are neutral community players, what are their perspectives on the way that the technology needs to evolve and really trying to broker what is the right way? What is the authentic way? What is the scalable way? What enables the most opportunity for future innovation?I think there’re engineers who do a really good job of trying to carry that mantle. It’s not to say that we always succeed, but it is to say that we try and that when Pat made his call to the open ecosystem and the importance of neutral platforms for competition, that really brings to that point that we need to seek what is good and what serves the benefit of humanity. What serves the benefit of the technology in and of itself inherently and not serve specific corporate interests, as much as we are trying to advance, what is the right way to do something as we move forward.

Now, of course, when it comes to hardware, we have evangelism perspectives of how we think it should go. But in the same regard, that’s one of the benefits of open-source. The community gives us feedback and says, “I’m not sure that architectural spec is exactly the way we think that should be done. Let’s have a dialogue about how we can do that in a way that embraces all that the community has to bring to bear.”

Swapnil Bhartiya: When we do talk about community, though there is no community. There are communities and those communities can be user community, that community can also be partner communities. So, we talked about open-source developer community, but also want to talk a bit about when we do look at this open ecosystem, what role, of course, Intel is known for partner, as you said, in the neutral platform. So talk about the strategy plans you have going forward, how much is going to change, how you’re going to engage with other players, because in some cases, some partners may also happen to be competitors in some space. So, talk about the whole strategy around partnership and partners.

Melissa Evers: So, it is complicated. Our role is expansive in the number of projects that we participate in. And, we also have products and services that may not be fully open-source, etc., serving various verticals in markets, etc. So, the landscape in which we play and technology is nuanced and it’s not a carte blanche, everything is this way. And so, we do have an intention of being earnest and transparent with regard to our strategic intent with partners who are customers and competitors, and it really does challenge us to be intentional. And we try despite this complexity to really operate with these players in the ecosystem. With transparency and be able to say like, “Hey, here’s where we are competing. Here’s where we are partnering and working together to try to advance and end.”

When Pat has talked about the IFS, Intel Foundry Services transformation, and all the fab that we’re building, etc., that brings in a whole new layer of competition and partnership. And as we look at what’s happening in the open-source ecosystem with OCP and RISC-V, etc. The basis of what is open competition/collaboration etc., etc., it’s becoming much more nuanced. And, we try to operate with integrity and transparency in those contexts, but in the same regard recognizing that the nature of our business is very nuanced and there are places where that’s totally true.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Excellent. Mark, do you want to add something to that? I’m also going to ask a question, when it does come to hardware, you mention the partners, we are also seeing evaluation in terms of architectures. We are all also talking about GPUs, CPUs. We are looking at edge use cases. And when I say edge, I’m not talking about small sensors, I’m talking about edge data centers. So, which is also changing the whole chemistry or engagement you will have with partners. So, can you also reflect a bit on these changes that are happening? How does that reflect on your open ecosystem, strategy as well as engagement with the partners?

Mark Skarpness: Yeah, I think it’s when you think about the breadth of that world, just how much from the edge nodes, the device nodes, the network, the Cloud, just an incredible breadth of devices. And yet there is a lot of commonality when you think about where Linux gets used. It gets used across that entire spectrum or the Cloud native stack as the Cloud gets stretched out to the edge and even onto the device. A lot of that technology, both hardware and software, is highly leverageable and that’s, for us, such an exciting opportunity, is building this set of core products, hardware, and enabled through the software ecosystem that really can scale across that entire breadth, from edge to device, to cloud, to network, pretty amazing.

I think we’re going to see such incredible growth, the edge and all of the things you can do is bring compute closer to the user, lower latency, higher bandwidth, compute connectivity. Incredible. And obviously there’s a breadth of different compute, from CPU to GPU, to different accelerators, which we’re bringing to that, breadth again across the entire spectrum. And how do you, you plumb that into the software ecosystem and, make it available to developers to do great things.

Melissa Evers: I just piling onto Mark’s comment with regard to the modularity that edge computing enables the software components are a lot of the software components that have existed, right? We’re putting them together in new and compelling ways. And I think that, there are, of course new innovations, particularly with regard to vertical use cases and data science and AI, etc., but in the same regard, there’s also just a ton of innovation that’s happening with the modularity that’s enabled, by containerized and VM based technology.

I’m reflecting on our engineers, took Android for example, and created a project called Celeron, which enables, which is open-source. And you can now run Android or Android apps or gaming services, etc. in VMs or containers on the edge endpoint in the data center. And these are types of things that, that modularity enables just truly transformational innovations that open new worlds and that’s part of the excitement that I think has inherently catalyzed Intel’s commitment to open-source over the years is growing what technology can solve, what neutral open platform, software defined, whatever, as we take what has been custom based six of the past and, and use these modular components to open incredible new markets and drive new consumption of use cases and capabilities that just never existed before.

Swapnil Bhartiya: But I’m actually excited to know how 5G private network is going to, make things even more exciting next year. Now I want to just change gear and talk about oneAPI. We covered it here, at the Intel innovation, new folks, kind of, also announced the launch of oneAPI at 2022. Can you share, what vision you folks have with oneAPI? And once again, how do you plan to engage developers with it?

Melissa Evers: Absolutely. So oneAPI is an essentially an envisioning of that open platform competition. The world today is kind of locked in a set of proprietary verticalized, services and capabilities. And we don’t think that that services the ecosystem, well, we believe that letting people compete based upon the true nature of the value created is essential for the future of innovation. And so oneAPI is essentially a collection of open-source based specifications, as well as open-source components that we have productized in the oneAPI product offering that was announced. So I think it’s just last week, was the most recently release. However, it’s really important for us to realize that, the specification and SYCL DPC++, etc. are based on open components of and open specifications of direct programming models. And then the manifestations of those in terms of the ways that we’ve productize is just a commitment to the quality and the security on the usability of those offerings in terms of the open-source efforts.

But for us, the rallying cry to the industry and the ecosystem could not be more clear, nor more critical in the sense that we are inviting all of the ecosystem to stand up and say, “Yes, we believe in open. We believe in neutral platform competition. We believe that everyone is best suited when that is the basis by which innovation is driven”. And so those, those opportunities for collaboration and both in this specification, as well as in terms of the development is part of what we hope we will continue to drive and move forward.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Mark, Melissa, thank you so much for taking time out today and talk about, of course, open ecosystem and also open-source Intel engagement. I mean, nobody ne needs to know what Intel is doing because you folks have been doing so much things too. It’s like showing a flashlight to a sun, but it’s still good to talk about open-source at Intel. So thanks for those insight and the time today. And I would love to have you folks back on the show. Thank you.

Melissa Evers: Absolutely. It was a pleasure to be here [inaudible 00:17:49].

Mark Skarpness: Okay, thank you so much.

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