Or will open, transparent and collaborative technological ecosystems have a better chance at overcoming the world’s most pressing challenges?

The COVID-19 pandemic represents a historic test of the power of global cooperation in solving one of the greatest challenges in human history.

To discover the treatments to fight the disease, scientists, governments, universities, and the private sector around the world tapped on the Texas Advanced Computing Center’s (TACC) Frontera—one of the world’s most powerful computers—to mapping the SARS-CoV-2 virus at the molecular and atomic level. 

This large-scale cooperation was made possible by the thousands of servers, nodes, software infrastructure and applications that worked together, where the data and insights were shared securely with scientists, researchers, and institutions from around the world, so they could build on the knowledge and resources of one another to find treatments for the virus.

An example like this shows how our collective potential is unlocked when we enable openness, choice, and trust. This is why I believe a powerful, open ecosystem will always triumph. Be it in the case of pandemic research or technological innovation. Whether we create devices like mobiles or desktops; infrastructure on-premises or in the cloud; we must make our ecosystem open.

Yet, with so much emphasis put on the importance of an open ecosystem, what does it actually mean and why does it matter for our future? 

Laying a foundation that is accessible to all

With the world in a more volatile place than ever, an open ecosystem is crucial in laying a foundation that enables different technologies, developers, and organizations to tap onto, build upon one another’s discoveries, and work together to drive innovation. These exchanges increase our ability to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems like climate change

In precarious times like these, we need all the ideas, technologies, and innovations we can get, to help us weather the storm and come out stronger. But these ideas and innovations can only thrive in open and democratized environments based on communities that encourage support and integration with different technologies, services, and platforms. They also rely on agreed upon standards to reduce complexity and resources required to accelerate, integrate, and test at scale to get the innovations to market faster. 

Steve Long, Corporate Vice President and General Manager (Asia Pacific and Japan), Intel Corporation

Open software: transparent, secure, and accessible 

Developers today have the challenge of developing applications that must work across a multitude of architectures and hardware. Think of a music streaming app that must work across smartphones, smart TVs, and tablets to offer a seamless experience. To help them traverse interfaces, software stacks and hardware, developers need tools that remove code barriers that allow interoperability across the breadth of technology. 

Leading by example, we have contributed to AI development with a toolkit designed to let developers optimize neural network inference to solve challenges with computer vision, speech recognition, and natural language processing. We have also contributed a cross-industry, standards-based platform that delivers a common developer experience no matter the architecture they are developing for.

Remember having to install add-on cards to the desktop computer and rebooting the system every time peripherals like scanners, printers and PDAs needed to be connected? At that time, each device had their own complicated installation procedure and ways of connecting to the machine.

Thanks to the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), the USB standard was introduced to offer a uniform, consistent way to connect peripherals to computers. Just like open source and open software, open standards like USB ensure that developers are not locked into a specific technology or vendor, and it streamlines development and interoperability. This ultimately lowers costs and increases returns on investment, allowing developers to dedicate more of their time in solving real world challenges, and enabling them to scale their innovation and reach more users quickly. 

The future must be open

Despite all the efforts in creating an open ecosystem over the years, we continue to see more proprietary software stacks as well as verticalized systems designed to lock-in developers. We believe this way of operating stifles developer opportunity and innovation.

It is now more important than ever to nurture an open ecosystem with support for open source, open software, open standards, open policy, and open competition to create a horizontal playing field where innovation thrives. 

Building upon established systems, software, and standards, we can accelerate development just as scientists did with the data provided by the Frontera. As we embrace an open ecosystem, we will be better prepared for the uncertainties lying ahead.