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Monday, Jan 31 2011

Open Source in the Cloud – Part 1

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The open-source movement is growing rapidly and is having a major impact on the way businesses model their IT strategies. We will examine these impacts over the next several blog posts.

One of the business areas where open source is beginning to have a noticeable effect is cloud computing. Free and open source software (FOSS) is software that is liberally licensed to grant users the right to use, study, change, and improve its design by allowing access to its source code.

It has revolutionized the world of information technology by encouraging a community-driven approach to building software and applications. In a similar way, cloud computing uses a distributed resource delivery and usage model, encouraging users to access their resources (hardware or software) via a network. The benefits of the cloud computing model are scalability, which appears to be infinite, and instant access or provisioning.

One of the most important ways that the open-source movement is fueling and accelerating the growth of cloud computing is found in the community-building component. This open-source community element has inspired technological and business model innovations across a spectrum of industries and professional service providers.

One example is the Salesforce.com AppXchange, which allows enterprise users of Salesforce.com’s SaaS platform to extend, customize and modify their SaaS implementations to meet their unique business needs, often with just a click of a button. On the other side, AppXchange developers are free to put their own stamp on Salesforce.com’s innovative platform and create a new business proposition geared for a niche market. The resulting combination of an established and tested SaaS platform (Salesforce.com) blended with an innovative and ever-changing suite of new add-ons (AppXchange) helps assure enterprises that they will always have the most cutting-edge and flexible SaaS platform. This, combined with fast entry and relatively low-cost deployment, helps enterprises feel more comfortable with a cloud-based solution in place of an in-house custom application.

Open source software is at the opposite end of the spectrum from compiled and ready-to-run software. The source code is included with the compiled version and modification is actually encouraged. The software developers who support the open-source concept believe that by allowing any interested party to modify the source code, the application will become more useful and error-free over time.

Although open-source software has had an enduring impact on information technology, making it work for companies and enterprises in the cloud is far more complicated than simply installing a copy of Linux. If a company is serious about using open source in the cloud to cut costs, accelerate development, and reduce vendor lock-in, it must institutionalize skills and create new ways of working. First, a company must understand the benefits and services that open-source software in the cloud can provide, what responsibilities and risks it brings, and how to best minimize those risks.

Benefits of Open Source in the Cloud:
Cloud computing is a convergence of high-performance computing architectures, Web 2.0 data models, and enterprise-scale computing. Think about it as the next phase of service-oriented IT. With cloud computing, you are accessing and running IT services, but the services are usually somewhere beyond the corporate firewall or data center and are not subject to the same hardware and software limitations, management problems, and scalability issues as internal infrastructure. Cloud computing combined with open-source software enables additional real benefits for enterprises:

  • It allows businesses to deploy applications, systems, and IT resources as services that reside somewhere in the global network and is more cost-efficient than in-house solutions.
  • It allows businesses to use the applications, systems, and IT resources of other organizations when needed, realizing costs of scale more effectively than with in-house solutions.
  • It gives businesses access to open-source innovations and improvements that can save money and time and improve performance and flexibility, unlike in a traditional packaged solution.
Ultimately, open source cloud deployments can save money, free businesses from vendor lock-in, and offer flexible ways to combine public and private applications.

A number of open source cloud applications, services, educational resources, support options, and general items of interest are available today. A partial list can be found on Armada’s website.

Next week, we will continue this series with a focus on business model considerations for open source in the cloud.