After a niche is established several vendors form. They then form alliances before consolidating into a form that can rain down money on a grateful public.
This is now in the process of happening with clouds, and open source has a big stake in the game.
We talked a lot about Red Hat last week. Their alliance with IBM is an open secret. Eucalyptus, under Marten Mickos, is now appearing to ally itself with HP, and trying to drag Ubuntu into the alliance with it.
Red Hat, meanwhile, identifies VMWare as its chief competitor, and its enterprise Linux rival Novell is tied up with VMWare.(My son John took this picture of clouds in North Carolina, where Red Hat is headquartered.)
You will notice that some names are missing in this analysis. Microsoft. Amazon. Oracle. Google. That's because, for now, the management of clouds and the open source cloud software stack are different businesses. But don't expect that to last.
It's the sort of game I have seen many times before in my years as a tech reporter. And that's what worries me.
This is the "great game" CEOs and Wall Street play, with big companies holding poker hands close to the chest, and sometimes taking out other companies (even whole industry niches) on the smallest pretense.
More important, the nature of the game is closed. The construction and destruction of corporate alliances is an insider's game.
It's a game open source has never played. It's not a game open source executives -- even experienced ones like Jim Whitehurst of Red Hat and Marten Mickos of Eucalyptus -- are experienced at playing.
The future of these open source vendors, and open source itself, could be riding on what happens in the cloud, and we'll never know what that was until the results rain down on us.