I have been asking the Univention team to share the behind-the-scenes story of Univention for a couple of months. Finally, today we got the interview of Mr. Peter H. Ganten, CEO of Univention GmbH. Despite his busy schedule, in this interview, he shares what he thinks of the Univention project and its impact on open source ecosystem, what open source developers and companies will need to do to keep thriving and what are the biggest challenges for open source projects.
OSTechNix: What's your background and why have you founded Univention?
Peter Ganten: I studied physics and psychology. In psychology I was a research assistant and coded evaluation software. I realized how important it is that results have to be disclosed in order to verify or falsify them. The same goes for the code that leads to the results. This brought me into contact with Open Source Software (OSS) and Linux.
I was a kind of technical lab manager and I had the opportunity to try out a lot, which led to my book about Debian. That was still in the New Economy era where the first business models emerged on how to make money with Open Source. When the bubble burst, I had the plan to make OSS a solid business model without venture capital but with Hanseatic business style – seriously, steadily, no bling bling.
What were the biggest challenges at the beginning?
When I came from the university, the biggest challenge clearly was to gain entrepreneurial and business management knowledge. I quickly learned that it's not about Open Source software as an end to itself but always about customer value, and the benefits OSS offers its customers. We all had to learn a lot.
In the beginning, we expected that Linux on the desktop would become established in a similar way as Linux on the server. However, this has not yet been proven true. The replacement has happened with Android and the iPhone. Our conclusion then was to change our offerings towards ID management and enterprise servers.
Why does UCS matter? And for whom makes it sense to use it?
There is cool OSS in all areas, but many organizations are not capable to combine it all together and make it manageable. For the basic infrastructure (Windows desktops, users, user rights, roles, ID management, apps) we need a central instance to which groupware, CRM etc. is connected. Without Univention this would have to be laboriously assembled and maintained manually. This is possible for very large companies, but far too complex for many other organizations.
UCS can be used out of the box and is scalable. That’s why it’s becoming more and more popular - more than 10,000 organizations are using UCS already today.
Who are your users and most important clients? What do they love most about UCS?
The Core Edition is free of charge and used by organizations from all sectors and industries such as associations, micro-enterprises, universities or large organizations with thousands of users. In the enterprise environment, where Long Term Servicing (LTS) and professional support are particularly important, we have organizations ranging in size from 30-50 users to several thousand users. One of the target groups is the education system in Germany. In many large cities and within their school administrations UCS is used, for example, in Cologne, Hannover, Bremen, Kassel and in several federal states. They are looking for manageable IT and apps for schools. That’s what we offer, because we can guarantee these authorities full control over their users’ identities.
Also, more and more cloud service providers and MSPs want to take UCS to deliver a selection of cloud-based app solutions.
Is UCS 100% Open Source? If so, how can you run a profitable business selling it?
Yes, UCS is 100% Open Source, every line, the whole code is OSS. You can download and use UCS Core Edition for FREE!
We know that in large, complex organizations, vendor support and liability is needed for LTS, SLAs, and we offer that with our Enterprise subscriptions and consulting services. We don't offer these in the Core Edition.
And what are you giving back to the OS community?
A lot. We are involved in the Debian team and co-finance the LTS maintenance for Debian. For important OS components in UCS like OpenLDAP, Samba or KVM we co-finance the development or have co-developed them ourselves. We make it all freely available.
We are also involved on the political level in ensuring that OSS is used. We are engaged, for example, in the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) and the German Open Source Business Alliance, of which I am the chairman. We are working hard to make OSS more successful.
How can I get started with UCS?
It's easy to get started with the Core Edition, which, like the Enterprise Edition, has an App Center and can be easily installed on your own hardware or as an appliance in a virtual machine. Just download Univention ISO and install it as described in the below link.
Alternatively, you can try the UCS Online Demo to get a first impression of Univention Corporate Server without actually installing it on your system.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for Open Source?
There is a certain attitude you can see over and over again even in bigger projects: OSS alone is viewed as an almost mandatory prerequisite for a good, sustainable, secure and trustworthy IT solution - but just having decided to use OSS is no guarantee for success. You have to carry out projects professionally and cooperate with the manufacturers. A danger is that in complex projects people think: “Oh, OSS is free, I just put it all together by myself”. But normally you do not have the know-how to successfully implement complex software solutions. You would never proceed like this with Closed Source. There people think: “Oh, the software costs 3 $ millions, so it's okay if I have to spend another 300,000 Dollars on consultants.”
At OSS this is different. If such projects fail and leave burnt ground behind, we have to explain again and again that the failure of such projects is not due to the nature of OSS but to its poor implementation and organization in a specific project: You have to conclude reasonable contracts and involve partners as in the proprietary world, but you’ll gain a better solution.
Another challenge: We must stay innovative, move forward, attract new people who are enthusiastic about working on projects. That's sometimes a challenge. For example, there are a number of proprietary cloud services that are good but lead to extremely high dependency. There are approaches to alternatives in OSS, but no suitable business models yet. So it's hard to find and fund developers. For example, I can think of Evernote and OneNote for which there is no reasonable OSS alternative.
And what will the future bring for Univention?
I don't have a crystal ball, but we are extremely optimistic. We see a very high growth potential in the education market. More OSS is being made in the public sector, because we have repeatedly experienced the dead ends that can be reached if we solely rely on Closed Source.
Overall, we will continue our organic growth at double-digit rates year after year.
UCS and its core functionalities of identity management, infrastructure management and app center will increasingly be offered and used from the cloud as a managed service. We will support our technology in this direction, e.g., through containers, so that a hypervisor or bare metal is not always necessary for operation.
You have been the CEO of Univention for a long time. What keeps you motivated?
I have been the CEO of Univention for more than 16 years now. My biggest motivation is to realize that something is moving. That we offer the better way for IT. That the people who go this way with us are excited to work with us. I go home satisfied in the evening (of course not every evening). It's totally cool to work with the team I have. It motivates and pushes you every time I need it myself.
I'm a techie and nerd at heart, I enjoy dealing with technology. So I'm totally happy at this place and I'm grateful to the world that I can do whatever I want every day. Not everyone can say that.
Who gives you inspiration?
My employees, the customers and the Open Source projects. The exchange with other people.
The motivation behind everything is that we want to make sure that mankind will be able to influence and change the IT that surrounds us today and in the future just the way we want it and we thinks it’s good. We want to make a contribution to this. That is why Univention is there. That is important to us every day.