Storage Informer
Storage Informer

Open Source Software and Cloud Computing

by on Jul.24, 2009, under Storage

Open Source Software and Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is a hot topic right now with more and more services moving into the cloud every day. Open source has already been playing a role in cloud computing, but there is quite a bit of speculation about the role that open source will play in the future as the cloud computing industry matures. The economic conditions are part of the reason for the use of open source in cloud computing, but flexibility, avoiding vendor lock-in, and access to the source code are other reasons for choosing to use open source as part of a cloud solution.

According to IDC (PDF link):

"Linux has emerged as a key component of many of today&aposs available cloud infrastructures, providing both the base technology for cloud providers and an operating environment for customers that wish to access Linux operating system and Linux services that are hosted in a cloud."

"Linux has gained traction among cloud providers due to its low cost and customizability. Cloud providers are building cutting-edge, highly complex services and often require source code access and the ability to modify the base code to their highly specific needs."

On the one hand, open source technologies are being used extensively as part of the infrastructure behind many of the cloud solutions being offered by companies like Amazon and Google. However, the cloud platforms being developing by the big providers include a stack of proprietary code on top of the open source infrastructure. Some people express concern that the cloud will make open source software less relevant as these companies develop proprietary solutions for the cloud that run on top of this open source infrastructure. Tim O&aposReilly talked about this idea a year ago, and he framed the discussion with a couple of questions:

"What good are free and open source licenses, all based on the act of software distribution, when software is no longer distributed but merely performed on the global network stage? How can we preserve freedom to innovate when the competitive advantage of online players comes from massive databases created via user contribution, which literally get better the more people use them, raising seemingly insuperable barriers to new competition?"

While open source in the cloud has some challenges, O&aposReilly was fairly optimistic about the possibilities for the future of open source and cloud computing. He provided plenty of advice sprinkled throughout the article about using federated services rather than centralized ones, sticking to open standards and protocols, focusing on reusable components, and more.

Other recent articles aren&apost quite as optimistic. Stephen O&aposGrady from Red Monk talks about whether or not open source software can provide a viable complete alternative to cloud offerings from companies like Amazon. The idea is to take open source past the infrastructure layer and use open source to provide the entire cloud platform, which O&aposGrady says would be particularly useful for companies wanting to avoid lock-in or create private clouds that run within an organization&aposs infrastructure. With the popularity of the proprietary cloud platforms, developing a complete open source alternative could be nearly impossible for a single company, so O&aposGrady sees partnerships as a difficult, but possible alternative solution. Matt Asay comments on O&aposGrady&aposs points by saying, "don&apost expect open source to &aposwin&apos in the cloud. … Rather, look to open source to influence, to shape the cloud."

There are already a number of open source cloud resources in various states of completeness, including Eucalyptus, Nimbus and more. People have been talking about open source software at recent cloud conferences, like Structure 09, as a way to help address some of the issues associated with cloud computing. While I don&apost necessarily see open source as becoming the solution for cloud computing, I do see it playing a role as one of the many possible cloud solutions providing end users with an alternative that they can choose.

What do you see as the future of open source in cloud computing?

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