Which enterprise vendor would benefit most from a GitHub acquisition?

GitHub's growth is slowing, but it's still hugely valuable to enterprise IT vendors in need of developer love. But, who is the best suitor?

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If developers are the new kingmakers, a thesis popularized by Redmonk, then who are they crowning?

There is a host of technologies and companies living large on the back of developer adoption, among them Amazon Web Services, MongoDB, DataStax Cassandra, Microsoft Azure, and others.

But if these are the companies and projects benefiting from developer uptake, who is losing?

Answer that, and you may have the business case for acquiring GitHub, the company that owns the primary playground where developers hang out and share code.

Who needs developers?

It's not hard to figure out who needs greater developer love: Everyone. If "software is eating the world," and developers are writing that software, then every company needs more developers, whether employed directly or accessed through open-source projects.

As such, it's not surprising that my question: "Who will buy GitHub?" received a wide variety of responses. (Though, it should be noted, I'm not suggesting GitHub is actually for sale.)

Some, like ZDNet's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, argue that Google would be a good match, given its open source bona fides and growing clout with developers.

Others like Krishnan Subramanian, however, postulate that a better match would be IBM or Microsoft, both of which need developer adoption and have the foundations set for successful cloud offerings. Of the two, Subramanian feels that IBM would be a better destination, as IBM is "showing [the more] aggressive approach to developer onboarding."

Another potential option is VMware, which continues to dominate cloud systems management and data center automation, according to recent IDC data, but is sprinting to catch up with the new developer-led enterprise.

But then, so is everyone else.

Owning future workloads, one developer at a time

As such, what Mike Paiko, director of product marketing for cloud native apps at VMware, told Cloud Pro, isn't really specific to VMware. Every enterprise IT vendor has this problem, or some variation of it:

Historically, if a developer needed an environment the IT operations team would provide a virtual machine. And then they would go and build their environment in it, or maybe create a template of a VM, and give them a copy. But what the developer's really asking for today is 'give me a Mesos environment, or give me a Kubernetes cluster.' That's what they really want, not a VM.

In a similar manner, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger's comments to a gathering of partners would ring as true for other IT giants as they did for VMware: "We want to extend our franchise from the private cloud into the public cloud and uniquely enable our customers with the benefits of both."

This turns out to be rather difficult without appealing to the developers that increasingly build apps in the public cloud to get around cumbersome IT operations. And so VMware, along with Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, and others, is working hard to attract developers.

If any of these enterprise giants can figure out a seamless experience to publish apps from GitHub into managed environments, it could be gold.

Killing GitHub with kindness

Of course, just because a GitHub tie-up would be good for an enterprise vendor doesn't mean that it would be good for GitHub.

As A Cloud Guru co-founder Anthony Stanley posits, "Any big vendor that eats [GitHub] will introduce bias. There will always be an angle with a big vendor, and even if there isn't, the community would need a lot of convincing otherwise."

All true, but it's also true that an enterprise suitor wouldn't be the only one to benefit. GitHub, as then Redmonk analyst Donnie Berkholz highlighted, has seen its growth decelerate in the last two years, and needs to figure out a strategy for rebuilding momentum.

It's also seeing increased competition from Gitlab, an enterprise-focused competitor to GitHub. According to Twitter's open source guru, Chris Aniszczyk, Gitlab could "push GitHub...to be more open with [its] infrastructure." Open sourcing its back-end infrastructure won't do it any revenue favors, making it imperative that GitHub figure out its revenue strategy, and soon, as "hitting the plateau is inevitable without significant changes in direction," according to Berkholz.

In sum, a host of enterprise vendors could use GitHub's developer love. And, some of these vendors bring value back to a slowing GitHub that could prove beneficial to both. It will be interesting to see if anyone will place their bet on a big GitHub buy.

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