Does Open Source Matter in the Cloud?

Does Open Source Matter in the Cloud?

Summary: Does an open source cloud infrastructure matter to you?


With the announcement from RackSpace this week about their OpenStack open source cloud computing environment, the issue of the importance of open source software in the cloud is likely to become another bone of contention for cloud technology adopters. But frankly, I think it's a minor one, despite the online aggravation it is likely to generate.

The vast majority of people following the progress of cloud technologies are going to be consumers of cloud services, not creators. To them, it is the service that will matter, not the underlying technologies. As technologists, we have an annoying tendency to get swept up with our own personal beliefs and and a fascination with what's cool at the moment, especially those of us who evaluate technology and write about it on a regular basis.

But this is an issue that needs to be looked at from the business perspective and not the IT view. It just doesn't matter what the back end is as long as it delivers the services that our users need. Unless we are hosting and creating our own cloud services, the technology that drives the cloud is far less important than the business value of the delivered services.

For the long term, everybody on the backend playing nice will be much more beneficial to cloud consumers than the same type of religious war that tends to crop up anytime you get Mac, Windows, and Linux users together in the same place.  As much as zealots like to think that their personal opinion really matters, most of the business world just doesn't care what operating system or application is being run, as long as it aids them in getting their work done and doesn't impede them.

So whether the cloud application that is driving the business forward is running on OpenStack, Azure, VMware, RedHat Enterprise, or CP/M isn't an issue to consumers of cloud services. Results are all that matter.

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Software, Virtualization

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  • Open source does not matter, but

    price matters. Therefore someone who develops cloud services around open source may be in a better position to compete on price.

    I think strict adherence to open data format standards is important however I would not want my data irrevocably locked to a single vendor in the cloud.
    • RE: Does Open Source Matter in the Cloud?

      @Economister I fully agree with your point regarding Open Data formats. I recently made the same point here:

      However, I have to disagree with your point regarding price. When FOSS first came on the scene one of the key arguments put forth was its price advantage over commercial software. Unfortunately that only reinforced how little FOSS proponents understood about the cost structures of enterprise IT.

      Whether running your own private data-center or the fabric for a cloud data-center, software is a diminishingly small part of total life-cycle costs. If a OSS cloud fabric happened to be an order of magnitude more efficient than commercial alternatives, allowing you to reduce energy consumption or the number of servers you need to run, then maybe that would be a reason to select it. However, given the amount of R&D and the brains behind todays' best commercial cloud offerings I doubt OSS will ever have that big an advantage.

      In the end I think David is right in his view that the fact that some fabric is based on the OSS development model is pretty irrelevant at this stage.

      • Question:


        Is there any technical reason, given open and standard cloud data formats, that you could not subscribe to two different services, sync'ed automatically by the client (with appropriate safeguards), to get greater security, reliability and some redundancy?

        It seems to me that I would be MUCH more willing to go that route than with a single service provider. I hate being fully dependent on a single cloud provider. Is just seems SO risky.
  • RE: Does Open Source Matter in the Cloud?

    What I really hope will happen is that the we will level the playing field and help create a competitive market that encourages innovation. The web hosting industry is a good analogy to what I hope happens. A 15 year old with an idea and a server in his parents garage can compete in a business that includes billion dollar telcos.

    Project Lead, Openstack Compute
    • RE: Does Open Source Matter in the Cloud?

      @dendrobates I really hope you guys are successful with the Openstack infrastructure. I'm a happy RackSpace customer myself and more competition is really good thing. However, no '15 year old kid' is going to compete in the hosting services business today when a global data-center costs upward of $500M and customers have 99.999 services level expectations.

  • Zealots...doesn't matter??

    The reason people advocate one view or another is that they think it the best way to make sure you can get the things done that you need.

    You may be right that it doesn't matter, but that's just one view of it. And you better watch out, someone else might call YOU a Zealot!

    Look at phones, where some people said what OS is on it doesn't matter as long as you get the features you want. Apple gives you a slick phone that restricts the apps and underlying technologies depriving Apple users of Flash. Android is rougher, but wide open giving people what they want or need.

    So, I guess the underlying tech IS important because it decides who is in control.
    • RE: Does Open Source Matter in the Cloud?

      @Hameiri +1!
  • This makes me sad

    I think, with the greatest amount of respect, you have missed the boat. Whether or not cloud software is Free Open Source (free as in freedom) matters hugely, even more so in a cloud environment.

    The way software is licensed is truly unAmerican, it undermines the basic principles of ownership. You ignore the politics behind software at your peril.
  • You really think its all about "what's fun"?

    I've been in IT for over 18 years, and the one irrefutable fact remains: IT people gravitate to what works, what's stable, and what is cost effective. Its not some "dogmatic" position just because someone is a Windows engineer, or if a DBA likes a particular database; in the professional world operators will choose the path of least resistance and makes their quality of life its highest.

    Not all services will be supplanted by the cloud, mostly because of the cost of services.

    And finally, Open Source matters because it is the fundamental technology that CREATED the cloud.
  • proof of concept?

    As a possible adopter what makes me look at cloud stacks with suspicion is security of data,continuity and price comes down the line.Opensource Unix is the obvious candidate to adopt full cloud cover but will these issues be over come...proof of concept has to come first.
    The Management consultant
  • RE: Does Open Source Matter in the Cloud?

    Perhaps I am a zealot, at least in one sense; I believe that business needs, not technology, will drive the success of the cloud.

    I agree that open data formats are important, and the ability to seamlessly integrate services from various providers will require that, but the market driver is the business solution, not the underlying technology.
    David Chernicoff
  • RE: Does Open Source Matter in the Cloud?

    I can't count the number of times when big software companies have sold us proprietary solutions that they were not really prepared to support on the long term. Leading to us having to spend a lot of money to adapt to their new offering years later. So proprietary solutions can lead to much higher total cost of ownership years later.
  • RE: Does Open Source Matter in the Cloud?

    I am not trying to be a devils advocate here, but I was wondering about the H/W platform - there is no OpenSource/Openware in the H/W game and Cloud buzz is mostly run by the H/W giants, minus Windows. Again, who will in this case own up the Support of the OpenSource S/W being used ? The Cloud vendor, the community, or the IT of the vendor ?
  • "whether the cloud application ... is running on ... or CP/M...."

    Moore's law certainly has brought us a long way from CP/M with an 8-bit processor and an 8-inch floppy disk drive in the 1970's.
    I think it mattered to the course of personal computer development that neither Digital Research's CP/M nor Microsoft's MS-DOS were open source.
    I expect it will matter to the course of cloud service development whether its stacks are open source.
  • RE: Does Open Source Matter in the Cloud?

    Results have always been what matters unless your religious about software.