The future of VyOS, part 3: the business model
This is the third post in our series about the VyOS Project future and this time we'll talk about our business model, relationship with the community, and new bonuses for long-term customers.
It’s quite obvious that it’s hard for a project to survive without a source of funding. Developers have to pay their bills somehow (many also have children, believe it or not). Hosting costs money, hardware costs money, even domain registration is cheap but still not free—the costs add up. Tools and services aren’t always free either. For example, our Slack, which most people preferred over earlier free and open-source protocols (IRC and RocketChat) isn’t free so the project constantly requires resources.
There are definitely successful projects that are managed entirely by volunteers in their free time. Sometimes volunteers actually have extended free time to work on the project because their companies use that project and expressly allow them to work on it during their working hours (or at least turn a blind eye) — that’s the best-case scenario. Sometimes a project looks good on the surface but in reality, its maintainers are burnt out and/or struggling financially. Sometimes projects end up very popular with users and technically have big communities, but very few developers at the same time. A sustainable funding source greatly increases the long-term success chances.
As far as open-source projects go, VyOS is lucky to be a useful tool for all kinds of businesses and organizations including enterprises and MSPs who have the funds and motivation to choose VyOS instead of proprietary alternatives. Thus our model is focused on offering services to corporate users. That’s also where the future directions point: we are going to extend the product and services range focused on the needs of our customers and community members: commercial support, professional services, training and certification programs, and so on. We are also about to start implementing a new governance model that will allow customers and contributors to directly influence the project direction—there will be a separate post on that subject, so stay tuned!
Community participation and rewards
There's been a lot of talk about the sustainability of the open-source ecosystem lately. Many are just starting to realize there’s an issue with it, but we took it into account from the beginning. We support a bunch of our upstream projects financially and in other ways as our capacity allows, and we encourage everyone to do the same.
There are still people who are unhappy with our business model and demand that all LTS images and cloud instances should be available for free. Well, we tried that and that was clearly unsustainable and put the project at risk of going defunct. Our response to those people is that they can get LTS images without paying—by building them or contributing to the project. We chose to drop the “free as in price” part so that we can keep the “free as in freedom”, and now we have the funds to keep the project afloat and move it forward.
However, if a company becomes self-serving and its goals start going contrary to those of the project’s community, the community often takes the project back into its hands: that’s what we did with the Vyatta Core project, and that’s what we can see with Rocky Linux taking up the role of CentOS now that CentOS is no longer a long-term support distro. We have several ways to ensure that LTS images are available to those who need and deserve them most.
The first way is free subscriptions for contributors, which we consider a vital part of the community-driven approach. We are happy to share our work on maintaining the LTS versions with all people who help us move the project forward, whether by writing code, extending documentation, testing nightly/beta/rc builds and advocating for VyOS, we appreciate your input and will be glad to assist with all VyOS related projects
Every contributor can apply by filling out a form.
Another way is free subscriptions for non-profit organizations and educational institutions and other essential organizations that typically don't have huge budgets but, like everyone else these days, still need reliable networks. We understand the importance of your work and are willing to help as much as we can.
New perks for old customers
We would never be where we are today without our subscribers. It’s you who gives the project funding and a lot of critical feedback. We always feel that we should give something back to those who supported us year after year.
When VyOS 1.3.0 is released, we’ll upgrade the subscriptions of all customers who are with us for two or more years to Long-Term Customer subscriptions that will offer additional image flavors and higher priority support—for the same price. We made a promise to never raise prices for existing customers and we are keeping it, the price for your subscription will stay the same while you keep it active.
New funding sources
Thanks to our customers, we can keep moving forward. How fast are we moving? Factually speaking, faster than ever, but also not fast enough to keep up with demand. The nature of the project is that we cannot “move fast and break things”—if we do, no one will use VyOS in production. This is why we need more qualified people, more hardware to test the code on—well, more of everything really if we are to move faster. Which means we need more funds. We have a good team working on the VyOS itself now,
How are we going to get more funds without compromising our values? The main plan is equity crowdfunding. We ruled out the “traditional” crowdfunding through Kickstarter or similar from the start, mainly because of the ambiguous relationship between the makers and the backers. The backers get a promise to receive a product, but it’s nearly impossible to prove any wrongdoing on the part of the maker: there are lots of well-intentioned makers who overestimate their ability to deliver the product, but there are also lots of fraudulent campaigns and one may have a hard time telling one from the other.
By contrast, equity crowdfunding is regulated in many countries now, and there’s no way to scam individual investors out of their stock—they are only different from traditional investors in the maximum amount they can invest and the investment itself is not limited to only institutional investors, it’s also different from just receiving a reward for a pledge, you actually will receive a return on your investment (exact investment vehicle TBD).
It is something we will announce separately and it will be in the form of a campaign. If you may be interested in investing in VyOS, please express your interest by filling out this form.
In the next post (part 4) we will be talking about governance.