I told you the database server was overloaded...

I told you the database server was overloaded…

Are you an old, enterprise software guy (or one of their marketing minions) who is tired of having sand kicked in your face at the beach by cool new open source competitors?

My reporting is telling me that open source software (whose source code can be tweaked by customers or anyone else) is often outpacing commercial offerings, even in large accounts. While cost is an advantage (much open source code is free) customers tell me the real reason they choose it is because it often provides the scalability and management capabilities commercial offerings can’t, at any price.

It’s tough to compete with free, especially when free stuff works better than what you charge for. As a marketing or PR person, you can’t control price or functionality. But you can argue for the kind of cute, oddball name that seems to be table stakes these days in the open-source world.

The rules of this new branding, as far as I can figure them out, include:

  • Keep it short and weird. Going random works (the Hadoop framework for managing distributed data is, according to Wikipedia, named after a toy elephant.) Riffing off a real word works, too (the mongoDB open source document database, is a play on the “humongous” amounts of data it can store. Work your name into it, as Linus Torvalds did with the Linux variation of the Unix operating system that made open-source mainstream.
  • Paint me a picture: The Puppet lets you manage servers and other IT components from afar, like a puppet on strings. Chef takes the metaphor further by letting you create “cookbooks” and “recipes” to automate infrastructure management. The Jenkins continuous integration server performs services for you, much like a butler would. NetFlix’ Chaos Monkey randomly shuts down servers to see how well your application can survive.
  • Get a mascot: Linux got this rolling with its penguin. Hadoop as its cute elephant, MySQL a dolphin and Netflix’ Simian Army of automated stress-testers…well, you can only imagine.
  • Make it sound like code, or Klingon: If it looks strange enough, you’ll care enough to learn that Nginx is a high-performance HTTP server and reverse proxy, Zoie is a real time search and indexing system, Bobo provides search for semi-structured and unstructured data and that Redis, of course, is a key-value store.
  • Make a vague popular culture reference: What came first, Django the Quentin Tarantino movie or the Web app development framework? No such questions about the Azkaban Hadoop job scheduler or Voldemort distributed key value system. Sensei is not only a Japanese word for teacher but a distributed, elastic, real time searchable database. In mythology, Cassandra unsuccessfully warned of the destruction of Troy. Since she also foresaw the Trojan Horse, I think she’d be a security scanner. Alas, she’s a database.
  • Misspell: The free Git open-source code repository and version control system is where you go to store code under development and “git” the latest version of what others have coded. GitHub (the “hub” where you look for such code) is the commercial version, combining the benefits of a misspelling and a single word. Git it?
  • Don’t take it too far: Why call a behavior driven development tool Cucumber? At least Gherkin makes sense as a spinoff that provides documentation and testing for Cucumber. But I’m not sure whether to smile or groan when I read on GitHub that “mitsuhiko/flask is a microframework based on Werkzeug, Jinja2 and good intentions,” while AFNetworking/AFNetworking is a “delightful iOS and OS X networking framework” (best served with fish or venison?)

In the open source world, maybe you’re not trying hard enough if a name doesn’t 1) make you smile, or 2) ask “Can we really do that?” On the other hand, maybe most open-source software (except for Linux or the Apache Web server) is chosen so far down in the technical hierarchy that names don’t matter.

Are you trying to get more Mongo in your naming, and if so, how’s that working for you?

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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