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Open Source, the Fuel for Cloud Disruption

When it comes to contributing to open source initiatives, it’s all about co-creation

Open source has proven to be a good option for building, managing, and delivering scalable infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) clouds and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) clouds. Typically, most open source cloud platforms support multiple virtualization technologies, giving enterprises a range of choices from multiple vendors of closed as well as open source technologies. Some examples are Eucalyptus, OpenStack, Cloud Foundry, OpenNebula, Red Hat OpenShift, Xen Cloud Platform Project (XCP), and the newest kid on the block, Citrix Cloudstack 3. While some apprehension still exists around open source use, there is a shift in attitude as enterprises look to capitalize on efficiency and technologies like virtualization and cloud computing as these become highly essential components in IT architecture.

OpenStack is a massively scalable cloud operating system that helps in the delivery and management of infrastructure. OpenStack is initiated by Rackspace and NASA, and is supported by almost 180 organizations, including Intel, Dell, Canonical, AMD, Cisco, HP, SUSE Linux, Red Hat, and IBM. It is a collaborative effort by thousands of developers and technologists globally aimed at helping SMBs, service providers, data centers, corporations and researchers roll out and leverage industry-grade public and private clouds.

Cloud Foundry is an open PaaS initiated by VMware enabling users to choose from multiple deployment clouds, development frameworks, and application services. Eucalyptus has been in the space for more than three years and it helps with implementing IaaS clouds. It also provides a great hybrid cloud deployment option since it supports Amazon AWS application programming interfaces to build and deliver applications atop. Red Hat's OpenShift, an auto-scaling PaaS, is also getting traction and support from many organizations. XCP helps with server virtualization and building cloud platforms for enterprises using Xen hypervisor. OpenNebula is another open source standard for data center virtualization. It offers customizable solutions for the management of virtualized data centers based on Xen, VMware, and KVM. Citrix CloudStack on the other hand is supported by almost 50 organizations including software and service providers like RightScale, Engine Yard, Opscode, CumuLogic, Puppet Labs, Hortonworks, Equinix, Juniper Networks, and ScaleXtreme.

Today, the above referenced open source platforms and technologies are being adopted and leveraged by small to large organizations for different reasons and for different capacity. Some are being used to create and deliver internal infrastructure, applications or workloads; while others are being leveraged to build public cloud services. Similarly, the open source virtualization platforms like Xen and KVM are already a critical piece of many cloud solutions today. One such example is Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud platform. AWS IaaS cloud is perhaps the most popular public cloud - estimated to be a $1 billion cloud business. Amazon's core cloud service EC2 (compute service) is powered by Xen. This alone should provide some reassurance to people who are still skeptical, but despite all the advancements in open source cloud platforms, CIOs have been apprehensive about open source software because of the absence of a formal support infrastructure. Some other concerns include security, lack of proper roadmaps, complexities tagged with IP rights, and capabilities to evaluate and assert endorsements to open source projects. But it's not all negative - open source innovations are acting as a catalyst to cause positive shifts in computing paradigm; ultimately helping CIOs, and we continue to see the market size of open source cloud software get bigger day by day.

Open source is also driving another interesting change. When it comes to contributing to open source initiatives, it's all about co-creation. Today, CIOs or service providers are all expected to "do more with less," which results in tight constraints on budgets. Timelines foster the culture of co-creation through collaborative efforts rather than competition. A good thing is that now organizations are getting multiple open source options to solve problems and they are able to choose the specific one that will best help meet their requirements. We've reached a point where it's important for organizations to create a strategy around open source platforms, and target the ones that align with business propositions that help meet strategic goals rather than focusing on tactical goals only. In the context of cloud computing, experts believe that open source is promising to make the technologies behind the cloud a commodity.

Sometimes people tend to misunderstand the cost model associated with open source and hence fail to account for the inevitable costs as well. There seems to be confusion between a no-cost vs. low-cost option. Although open source software doesn't incur any cost for acquisition since there is no license fees or annual charges, organizations still need to account for administration and support costs. In any case compared with commercial software platforms, total cost of ownership will be significantly lower.

Security has always been a talked-about issue with open source and it's a very valid concern. In the new era of open source innovations, the fact that communities and participations sponsored by technology organizations are not only getting stronger, but also fueling the advancement through co-innovation patterns, has changed the perspective on open source security as well. Open source software is available to anyone and everyone to use and work with. This means a large community of developers globally contribute to the code; they inspect it, review it, test it for various scenarios, and analyze the code for vulnerabilities. This process makes the open source software more secure, delivering the quality software back, to test and inspect it again and again. It keeps evolving all the time, while intelligence is added by many brains. In the context of a commercial software product, the vendor organization helps you solve the problem; and in the open source scenario, perhaps the whole technology world conspires toward your success.

There are other advantages of open source in cloud as well as virtualization - affordability (lower TCO), flexibility to customize, transparency in the stack, no vendor lock-in, better interoperability, and commitment toward portability when it comes to migrating workload. Having a choice of selecting technologies, frameworks and tools to build applications and peripherals proves to be another advantage. The value of community participation and support from a vast base of developers across geographies brings more firepower and extra leeway.

No doubt closed source projects will continue to have markets; however, they will be put under constant pressure due to the impact and penetration open source platforms are creating and are capable of advancing. Open source is very much happening and cutting across all the layers of cloud architecture. This means organizations today can't afford to ignore open source and will need to either do talent investment, experimentation or lay out a full-blown strategy when thinking about cloud as an enabler. The future may belong to businesses that take on new technology bets - try different computing and delivery approaches, experiment with constantly evolving technologies that are more open and collaborative. Open source adoption is and will continue fueling the disruption that new edge technologies like cloud computing are causing... what do you think?

More Stories By Jiten Patil

Jiten Patil is Principal Technology Consultant & Cloud Expert, CTO Office, at Persistent Systems Limited, a global leader in software product development and services. He has 15 years of industry experience and has spent the past 6 years working with cloud service providers, ISVs and enterprises in the field of SaaS, IaaS, PaaS and hybrid cloud computing solutions. His key expertise is in guiding organizations for cloud strategy and roadmap, solution architecting for public & private application services, platform services, multi-tenancy methodologies, application enablement and migration, devising new cloud solutions, tools and IP products, and doing competitive assessment across cloud technologies. He can be reached at [email protected] / Twitter @jiten_patil

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