Why open source is the only way to fly

[Git]    [cmake]    [Dune]    [Jenkins]    [GCC]    [MediaWiki]

Like the saying goes: sharing is caring. This is turning out to be an ever-increasing mantra even within software engineering and programming.

Chances are you’ve heard of a term called open source in the world of software. In short, it means that everything you code is shared publicly. This means anyone, with little to no effort, can look into the work you’re doing, add to it, comment on it or even use it to build something new for their own.

It might sound like you’re potentially giving away all your work for free, letting whomever leech off your greatest work and make money off it. But that is far from the case, Alf Birger Rustad explains.

“In our age, with information overflowing the internet, you actually have to work quite hard for anyone to notice you and bother to look at your work at all,” he says.

Wonder what it's like working open source on OPM? Or how Equinor welcomed this method? Then this is a must-see.

Rustad is the project manager for a project within Open Porous Media (OPM), where they seek to develop a reservoir simulator. He’s been part of OPM for the last 10 years, and when they began working on the simulator they quickly realized they would need highly skilled programmers in a range of fields.

“Even large partner companies or institutions we had worked with previously didn’t have all the competence required. As a result we had to work together with more partners than before. And if we’re going to have this many different people working together I don’t see any other way of making it work than open source,” Rustad explains.

What is the Open Porous Media project?

Key Goals:

  • Coordinate software development between different partners
  • Maintain and distribute open-source software and open data sets
  • Ensure that these are available under a free license in a long term perspective

    Affectionately known as OPM, the Open Porous Media Project is an initiative that encourages open innovation and reproducible research for modeling and simulation of porous media processes. 

Time for a change

The OPM project started 10 years ago but the first work on Flow, the reservoir simulator, didn’t start until four years later. It didn’t become a separate project within Eqinor until three years ago. Rustad believes the project came about as a means to cut costs and improve existing technology.

“I think the timing was due to the cost focus we had at the time. Licenses for software like these are very expensive and I believe it was seen as something we should try to change. We’ve also seen that reservoir simulator development has stagnated, and we’re paying large sums for tools that rarely change. So, we wanted to accelerate the technological development and began working on the project,” he says.

And this was when open source came into play, being seen as the only viable solution to solve this. Now, three years later, they’ve managed to do what others have tried before them: gathering a variety of contributors and creating a successful reservoir simulator.

“The oil business is traditionally very proprietary. And while we’ve seen that IT sectors have been successful in working open source, we had no idea how this project would turn out within our field. But it’s been amazing,” Rustad smiles.

He explains that while it seemed like the market was more than ready for this way of working, he was taken by surprise by how Equinor responded. Looking to the future, he believes that the open source model of working has created a domino effect that we’ll see in the years to come.

Portrait of a smiling man

“I’m an open source enthusiast and was ready for an uphill battle. But Equinor saw the potential, made a change and got on board right away. This surprised me, but I believe it’s because we have a culture of sharing. The way Equinor handled this project and continues to work towards open source is admirable and something we can be proud of.”

Alf Birger Rustad

Open source 101


The term Open Source refers to something people can modify and share because its design is publicly accessible. Authors of open source code make it available to others who want to view, copy, learn from, alter or share it. Different licenses affect the way users can use, study, modify and distribute software

Icon of a speech bubble

Open Exchange

Icon of a group of people

Collaborative Participation

Icon of a pencil and ruler

Rapid Prototyping

Icon of a magnifying glass


Icon of a piece of paper


Icon of the globe

Community-Oriented Development

The importance of cooperation

While we can say that open source is a great way of cooperating, what kind of effect does it have on the people working in this way? Pål Grønås Drange, Senior IT Analyst from IT SI in Bergen has the down-low.

“In my experience, software created open source has a higher quality than closed ones. This is because we as programmers know that anyone can inspect the work we’ve done and see if it’s high quality code. That’s a big incentive to push towards delivering better and better code.”

Pål Grønås Drange

“We of course do this in internal projects as well - but they often allow us to take shortcuts here and there, which can result in lower quality if there is a lot of it,” he adds.

When working in open source projects, Drange and all his colleagues are also building their own CV containing all the projects they’ve been part of. Better cooperation, a better end result and happier workers are all great aspects of open source. But another, perhaps slightly under communicated one is the independence it gives you, IT Analyst Jørgen Kvalsvik tells us.

Jørgen Kvalsvik tells about the fewer risks accompanying open source software. (Video: Torstein Lund Eik)

Equinor's OPM partners

Staying naked and honest

IT Analyst Joakim Hove has been working on the Flow simulator of OPM for the last 4 years, working mostly on compatibility with the industry standard. Many have tried before them to create a working compatible simulator, but none have come as close as the Flow-project. Hove has been an open source-fan since working on a project with Rustad, years ago.

“Since everything happens online and for everyone to see, you’re quite “naked” when working open source. But I don’t mind it, I think it keeps you honest and unable to hide behind a corporate firewall,” Hove tells us.

Even though cooperation is a major part of any open source project, it’s not working open source in itself that determines how well a project will do.

“I think that how well people cooperate on a project depends on the people that are part of it. You’re not guaranteed great cooperation simply by working open source. But there’s a clear advantage to all communication being electronic and online."

Joakim Hove

“The biggest advantage for Equinoir is that our partners, for example Sintef and Iris, are being “forced” to work together. They might have received funding separately before but haven’t been working actively together on a project until now, which is great,” Hove adds.

While meritocracy and outside contributions are key factors in open source projects, the latter hasn’t been a large part of OPM’s Flow simulator yet, Hove tells us.

“Most of our contributions are from people who do it as part of their work. We’ve had some bug reports from outsiders but we haven’t seen any large amounts of code contributed by anyone from outside the project. But that’s no surprise, you need a large amount of competence to work on or contribute to a project like Flow.”

Two men having a discussion inside
Jørgen Kvalsvik (left) and Jean-Paul Balabanian both believe that open source is a great model for collaboration.
(Photo: Torstein Lund Eik)

Having an Open Mindset

If you’ve paid attention to the company values and IT SI’s own values, you might have seen the word “open” appear from time to time (if you haven’t - now you know!). Because the merry band of open source enthusiast do have backing from management to head out into the open world.

“I always try to push our clients toward working open source, which can be a challenge at times. But I know that the team is motivated to work like this, so I try to help as much as I can,” Jean-Paul Balabanian explains.

He is the department leader for IT SI in Bergen and in charge of both running the team and hiring new people. Balabanian believes the CV you can build for yourself consisting of open source contributions is a great tool to see what people can actually do - and have done when it comes to the hiring process. Pål G. Drange also believes it can prove to be great PR for IT SI: 

“The general feeling among our team is that if we can show students that we’re working open source it would be great, as it’s very popular among IT students. Naturally, it’s even better if we can maintain a high standard of code that is visible to them. It lets them see the quality of work we’re doing and that we’re keeping up with the times,” Drange says.

“Open source has been an increasing trend these last years and I hope it stays on. I don’t think that the people in my department would choose anything other than open source - at least if they have a say in it themselves."

Jean-Paul Balabanian

Want to stay updated on Loop?


Want to know more about the Open Porous Media project?
Get in touch at the OPM website or on GitHub.

Portrait of a smiling man

Alf Birger Rustad

Portrait of a smiling man

Jostein Alvestad

Portrait of a smiling man

Jørgen Kvalsvik

Portrait of a smiling man

Joakim Hove

Portrait of a smiling man

Jean-Paul Balabanian

Portrait of a man

Pål Grønås Drange