Open source faces hurdles in the cloud

Summary:It may not be efficient to open-source some cloud functions, and large vendors will 'dominate' cloud computing in 2020, according to Mimecast's Nathaniel Borenstein

...we'd end up fielding support queries from our competitors. It's not a pleasant situation.

Most parts are very specific to our application — we're email specialists. If we open-sourced this system, then it would be difficult, because it's a smaller sector and these are our competitors. But at Mimecast, we have been talking about open-sourcing a couple of tools.

Can you tell us any details about the items you are thinking of open-sourcing?
It's more specific to email than cloud. Its connector level stuff that reaches out to other databases and does things. I believe it generally runs locally, but what it's good at is decoding difficult formats for use in other contexts. It's not a cloud function — it's an auxiliary piece of code that we use for supporting our cloud offering. We'd like to open-source something, because we are believers.

What do you make of schemes like OpenStack in general? Do you think they have come at the right time? How could OpenStack deal with some of the other major companies in the space — Oracle, for example — if they do not come onboard?
It's certainly possible it could be successful, but it's not clear to me who the target audience are. To me, the target audience seems to be much better suited to Amazon right now. If you're a small service provider, it's a better bet today.

After five years, when Rackspace produces this stuff, will it be a better choice? I don't know.

Open source is much more successful in some types of software than others. I would point to the difference between success on the open-source server side with Linux, and then on the desktop side with crap [where there are] few things offered. Out of all these server things, the biggest cost will be running the system, not building it. So making the software free... helps.

The answer might be different for different kinds of companies. One which is very big but not technical — for example, insurance — might have the wherewithal to pick up the open-source thing along with it. A law firm — no way. They can't even run a mail system, that's why they flock to Mimecast. The fact is, at a law firm, you have a few guys running the email system and not keeping up with the threats, and [running] a cloud is several magnitudes harder.

How has the development of Mime informed your thinking?
I think both that work and the work I am doing today is the same basic drive. To some extent, the drive has been to allow people to work together at distance.

Email is a critical technology for doing that. The impetus for Mime came from two communities: the non-ASCII community, who were interested in other languages, and the one I was part of: the multimedia community. Moving those two together picked up the whole thing, this thing called the world wide web.

One of the things that was driving me was someday I wanted to have grandchildren and get pictures of them by email, and in 2009, I did.

Beyond that, the desire to make remote collaboration possible continues to underlie just about everything I've done. Mimecast has the ability to build a set of services on top of the engine it has, and the purpose of those [services] is to enrich collaboration.

The best advice I received was from a fellow named Dave Crocker. When we were working on what became Mime, he took me aside one day and he said: "Nathaniel, you ought to come up with a clever acronym". He pointed out to me things that did and didn't have clever acronyms, and so I came up with Mime in 10 minutes.

Topics: Cloud


Jack Clark has spent the past three years writing about the technical and economic principles that are driving the shift to cloud computing. He's visited data centers on two continents, quizzed senior engineers from Google, Intel and Facebook on the technologies they work on and read more technical papers than you care to name on topics f... Full Bio

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