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Open Source: Lovers, Haters, and How the Cloud Blurs the Lines

How the cloud is making users ask, "Open source or commercial software... does it matter?"

This week in Denver legions of GIS professionals and developers (or geo-geeks as most of us prefer to be called) are gathering for the FOSS4G conference... A conference solely focused on one aspect of geospatial and mapping applications: that of the open source variety.

If you talk to the average software user, geospatial or not, about open source software you usually find three camps: Lovers, Haters, and Converters. Let's put these camps in crudely defined boxes:

Open source "Lovers" are the lifers that live, breathe, and have never used anything but open source software. Lovers shun the ideals and smirk at the drones flocking to suckling off the teat of the well-polished commercial vendor. Lovers have a solution-building personality.  They do not want to rely on others to solve their problems. They are not concerned with policies and procedures, rather just on getting the job done.

"Haters" like to manage and pay other parties solve their problems. Haters buy, rarely build. They like to create reports, make ROI charts, get a certificate for completion of formal five-day training on commercial company X's latest software release. They like to talk and argue about licensing and how it's all way too expensive. Haters listen to and quote FUD like "open source is not enterprise because it's not supported"... And "who is going to fix it when it breaks?" All of which points back to the original point, which is Haters buy and rely on others.

"Converters" are between the two camps and have usually been exposed to the successes and failures of both open source and commercial software implementations. Converters are open minded enough to be interested and understand the concepts of open source, but they usually don't have their management's approval to deploy open source into production or the open (e.g., Linux, Apache, Etc.) skill set to fully participate in the community development activities.  Some are only truly interested in open source because they cannot afford the commercial solution that solves their problem. Most, if not all converters are moving from commercial toward open source, not vice-versa. Converters list the barriers of conversion to be: "it's hard to install and get started" and "whom do I turn to if I have a problem?" as their most common issues.

Now that we have the legions defined, it's interesting to look deeper into the Haters' and Converters'mentality and see if recent innovations in the IT industry, namely Cloud Computing, can put to bed some of their fears and barriers regarding open source and re-introduce it into their mindset as a viable enterprise option.

First, I am not proclaiming there is anything wrong with the Hater mentality.  In fact, if measured by volume up until this point in history, many more successful empires in both software and consulting have been built on the commercial software tripod of buy, implement, train (repeat) than the open source mantra. However, the landscape of software is changing and customers are demanding that "traditional" models quickly become legacy and that vendors give them more flexible options to deploy software where and how they want (e.g., on the cloud, single-tenant SaaS, internal -use PaaS).

As users demand this flexibility in the way they deploy both commercial and open source technology, the Cloud Service Provider's ancillary role to the development process of open source software, which includes value-add services like application packaging, instant deployment, upgrade/migration, and help desk services, starts to alleviate some of the fears and hesitancies regarding open source software possessed by the Haters and the Converters.

For example and specific to the geospatial industry, Skygone templates the installations of open source (and commercial) mapping applications and readies them for instant deployment on a collection of different OS's like CentOS, Ubuntu, Fedora and even Windows in some cases. These application and OS templates are all sitting on different IaaS cloud providers, including; Skygone's own cloud powered by CA AppLogic, Amazon Web Services, and OpenStack. These services offer not only convenience to end users, but also lower risk due to true vendor neutrality and portability at not just the software vendor level, but also their cloud infrastructure provider as well.

Meaning, oddly enough, because of the Cloud, the lines are starting to blur and grey between commercial and open source software... Making users ask, "Does it really matter anymore which I choose as long as it solves my problem?"

More Stories By Ryan Hughes

Ryan Hughes, blogging at www.RyHug.com, is the Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) of Skygone (www.skygoneinc.com), a Cloud Computing solution provider to SI's, ISV's, Commercial, and Government. Education: MBA in Project Management from Penn State University; BS in GIS from Bowling Green State University Ryan currently has 10 years in Enterprise-level IT Program Management and Operations Management, as well as vast experience in Enterprise System Design and Cloud implementation methodology.

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