Cloud Computing and Open Source



i just had an interesting morning at IDC. They presented a study around cloud computing and just as IBM, T-Systems and RedHat, Microsoft was part of the game.

During the session there was this idea that

??? cloud computing = Open Source ???

at least the RedHat evangelist put it that way. His argument was that all typical players today reside on open source based platforms. This really caught my attention and I was thinking about it on my way home – say, home office.

My observations are:

The Stacking:

If you build a stack starting with the hardware nearly all players use x64 processor technologies. As far as i know IBM offers mainframe hosting but in the end the game is dominated by x64. This platform is ubiquitous and there are several players in this market. BUT: Nobody cares about the hardware in Cloud Computing, right?? Not having to care about the hardware layer is one thing in cloud computing why someone chooses to do it firsthand. So forget it…

Secondly the OS layer. Well, Linux plays a big role throughout all offerings. Certainly Google have chosen to use it and Amazon Services are playing well, too, with Linux. Beside that Windows (taking Windows Azure as an example) plays well, too. But once again: I do not care so much. The OS is a carrier for the application server and the application. It should provide some basic functionalities. If it does that for me as a customer the OS does not matter. For me as a hoster the OS does matter. This is the one thing were I can show my professionalism, energy footprint etc. The real value here does not lay within the software alone. It is about the processes. How “open source” are the processes? Anyway: Me as Mr. Customer I don’t care about the OS so much anymore. So forget it…

Now the application server. Several offerings here (like Amazon) leave this to you. Great control, less scalability. Others like Google or Microsoft are enforcing are more rigid model (like the web and worker roles in Azure) which are basic to get the full scalability. Is it impossible to do this Amazons services? No. Can’t you do the simple drive scripting on Azure? No. But it is harder.

Me as Mr Customer I search for an application server that fits my needs best. Today everybody repeatedly said “cloud computing is an evolution”. So the law of survival of the fittest applies and this does not mean survival of the most aggressive or the most open. That one that fits best in the needs of those who in the end feed him.

Certainly the price point is one indicator, maybe the richness of the solution, being able to migrate data when I decide to leave the platform. But does the “open source means no license fee” idea fit here? Or is it simply the idea of how much will it cost me operated in the cloud and how rich is the overall experience?? I vote for the later…

Now last but not least have a look on the applications. As you user the stickiness to this layer is at the highest. MySpace changed their whole platform once. For me as an end user it was transparent. Twitter started as a Ruby on Rails shop once. Some hickups later I do actually not know what platform because I don’t care. Well, by the way: How open source is facebook? Must it be? Isn’t it enough to have APIs that can be accessed… See my point???

The Process:

Cloud Computing will grow into the IT business just as client-server and outsourcing did. If you want to stick with the evolution thing you can pretend the IT industry being the habitat. Creatures that adopt the cloud computing style will have an advantage and though be a bit fitter than those staying with what they had. This will not extinct those not adopting it. But those guys will get under pressure.

Also, cloud computing is more about open standards and open APIs than about open source to me.