Aiven CTO talks about the future of open source in SEA

Image courtesy of Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

The adoption of open source in Southeast Asia is gaining momentum.

According to Red Hat’s The State of Enterprise Open Source report for 2021, about 62% of IT leaders in Asia-Pacific use enterprise open-source solutions for IT infrastructure modernisation. Meanwhile, 54% use it for digital transformation and 52% for app development.

Utilisation of such software in the region has progressed to a point that Helsinki-based start-up Aiven — an open-source cloud database developer valued at US$2 billion — established an office in Singapore last year.

To gain a better understanding of open source’s importance in Southeast Asia, Frontier Enterprise spoke with Heikki Nousiainen, Aiven’s co-founder and CTO. We also asked Nousiainen about promising advancements in the region, recent evolutions, and his forecasts for the future, including the influence of emerging tech.

Aiven is all about providing open-source technology into managed cloud services and has recently started its expansion in Southeast Asia. What is the reason for this? How do you view the state of open source in the region as a whole?

Cloud adoption has accelerated in the region in recent years, and the need for digital transformation has certainly driven organisations to adopt cloud technologies at a faster pace. Southeast Asia’s cloud market is growing at an immense pace – spending on public cloud services is expected to hit US$11 billion by 2025, according to IDC.

However, this change is not egalitarian across Southeast Asia. The digital divide between countries has also widened given how diverse and fragmented this part of the world is, and engineering digital transformation can be tricky.

Open source plays a critical role in closing the digital gap by developing technologies that support the shift to solutions such as cloud computing. It can also enable organisations to make the migration, subsequently giving them the ability to enjoy benefits a managed cloud service can offer.

Aiven’s goal in the industry has always been to provide solutions that help organisations build and maintain modern infrastructure, taking away operational concerns and giving them the technologies to establish an open-source data cloud. We have made significant investment into our solutions to ensure that they are safe, stable, and efficient, and offer businesses the compliance and data governance they need. Therefore, our foray into Southeast Asia reflects the need for open source in the region.

Which open-source development efforts could have a transformational impact on Southeast Asia? What do you think are the biggest enterprise issues in the region that open-source technology can be used to solve?

One of the biggest advancements we have seen in enterprise technology has been the large-scale shift to cloud adoption. Post-pandemic, we do view cloud adoption as status-quo, for organisations looking to remain relevant and competitive in the modern world.

Heikki Nousiainen, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Aiven. Image courtesy of Aiven.

The flexibility, scalability, and freedom of collaboration that it offers has transformed the way businesses operate, how employees work in a hybrid environment, and how we develop applications. While some may be slow on the uptake, we do predict that businesses will continue to make this migration from legacy infrastructure that is rigid, inflexible, and costly.

Many public cloud providers depend on open source-technologies to run them, because open source provides organisations with the flexibility they need, and helps them avoid vendor lock-in, giving them the agility to switch technologies to evolving needs.

As organisations grow rapidly, scaling up their infrastructure to meet this growth will be critical. However, maintaining systems that can handle enormous amounts of data can be taxing on developers and pose problems to businesses — such as those in e-commerce — that move rapidly and see millions of users and transactions daily. With e-commerce sales in Southeast Asia projected to reach up to US$38.2 billion in 2022, this is definitely a key area of concern for the industry. Open-source solutions play a transformation impact with these organisations by providing the data infrastructure they need to scale up while still maintaining flexibility to grow, and giving them better DevOps flow and an efficient migration of data.

You co-founded Aiven in 2016. What have been the highlights of your time there so far, and what are the most significant changes you have seen since then, specifically when it comes to open source?

The landscape for open source has changed dramatically since 2016; it is now at the centre of everything we do, and the backbone of our society. People long for transparency, reliability, and digital freedom, and open source represents all these things. Compared to 2016, the role of open source in digital transformation and innovation has grown exponentially, and I do not see this trend waning anytime soon.

One of the most significant changes I have seen has been the support of open source in the public sector. Governments around the world have increasingly realised that legacy proprietary software is costly and cumbersome to renew and upgrade, and have turned to open source as a result. This is especially relevant to governments that are concerned with making traditional bureaucracy more responsive to the needs of rapid technological advancements, such as the Singapore government.

It also reflects the need for increased collaboration across borders, and we’ve witnessed this in how the Singapore government has open-sourced the code for its contact tracing app, TraceTogether, in hopes that other organisations can build similar solutions that can be adapted to their local landscapes, enabling interoperability so that the public health sector across the globe can combat COVID-19 collectively.

It has been exciting to see the support for open source grow. This further reinforces the role that the sector plays in bolstering this growth so that businesses and governments alike can reap the benefits of a community that collaborates, shares insights, and innovates together.

What made you, Oskari Saarenmaa, Hannu Valtonen, and Mika Eloranta come together and start Aiven? What did you see in the market that was lacking?

Oskari, Hannu, Mika and I came together to start Aiven because we realised that cloud would be the future of applications, but getting there would require an immense amount of effort from developers and organisations, and not all were up to speed with the rapid pace of digitalisation and modernisation.

The gap we saw in the cloud infrastructure market revolved around how developers spent most of their time grappling with data infrastructure instead of solving challenges and developing innovative applications, which are what they should be focusing on.

Therefore, we started Aiven to make the lives of developers better. We wanted to make the open-source technology we loved easier to adopt. We wanted to give developers and organisations the tools and technologies they need to set up, maintain, and monitor secure and scalable open-source data infrastructure, empowering them to grow from prototyping to achieving worldwide scale at greater efficiencies.

What are some of the most exciting developments in Aiven’s labs, specifically when it comes to open-source technology? How are they relevant to Aiven’s future in Southeast Asia?

Our focus has always centred around how we can make the lives of developers better, as well as what solutions can address the changing needs and demands of businesses in the markets we operate in. 

Security has always been a drawback when it comes to open-source adoption and has become increasingly scrutinised by lawmakers in recent years. We aim to help bolster the management of open-source software and remain committed to the provision of safe and secure solutions. We have always taken security seriously in everything we do, and one of the new developments we have introduced this year has been the induction of Kafkawize (now renamed Klaw) into our open-source program office.

Klaw is an open-source data governance toolkit that helps enterprises exercise Apache Kafka Topic and schema governance.

Data storage and management is also becoming a priority for many businesses, with industry-wide digitalisation requiring the right IT infrastructure support to sustain such change. With one in three companies in Southeast Asia predicted to generate more than 15% of their revenues from digital products and services by 2023, it’s pertinent that we also look into providing technology that can empower this growth.

In 2022, we launched the beta for ClickHouse, our first foray into the cloud data warehousing market. We aim to help our customers by giving them access to an open-source columnar database with high-performance analytics for insights that drive key business decisions. ClickHouse is fully open source and designed to process hundreds of millions of rows and tens of gigabytes of data per server per second and supports query performance.

What predictions do you foresee in open source for the next three to five years? How will emerging technologies like AI and ML affect its evolution?

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly accelerated innovation in the IT world. There are a few leading trends that I see emerging and taking root in the near future:

  1. Continued growth of open source and cloud adoption
    The pandemic has accelerated the rise in adoption of open-source platforms, and this is only set to grow especially as enterprises and the public sector strive to develop digital ecosystems and innovate amidst an ever-changing technology landscape. With more employees working remotely, and more services going digital, back-end support services and network traffic will continue to experience strain. Coupled with the trend of organisations increasingly looking to shift from rigid legacy software to technology that fulfils their need for agility, cloud adoption will only continue to rise to cope with this shift.
  2. Event streaming and increased adoption of Apache Kafka
    As companies manage increasingly large amounts of data to power their businesses, Kafka adoption will also skyrocket. With the handling of enormous caches of data comes questions on security and data governance. Companies will increasingly look for solutions to manage the integrity and security of their data in enterprise systems, and open source will play a critical role in this as well.

We continue to see AI and ML being applied in every facet of our lives, from the mobile devices we use to online customer service chatbots and IoT sensors. I do not see open source and these technologies developing on a divergent path. In fact, open source plays a complementary role in the adoption of such technologies.

The collaborative and competitive environment that only the open-source community can provide gives data scientists the building blocks they need to develop modern learning algorithms and functionalities. Using open-source software will also allow the AI and ML industries to develop increasingly high standards for innovation and broaden the use of such technologies as they become more accessible to create.