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Open source and the cloud – the quick and the deadMatthew Aslett, November 20, 2009 @ 12:49 pm ET
Savio Rodrigues has published a post arguing that cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft’s Azure pose a threat to the monetization of open source by specialist vendors.
Savio makes a good case based on the recent launch of AWS’s Relational Database Service, based on MySQL, and Microsoft’s support for MySQL and Tomcat on Azure:
“When Amazon decided to offer MySQL via Amazon RDS, they did so without purchasing MySQL support from Sun. I’ve confirmed that Microsoft Azure is supporting MySQL on Azure without paying Sun for a MySQL Enterprise subscription.”
Clearly there is a threat to open source vendors from cloud-based services. Meanwhile I have previous argued that the cloud and open source are complementary. Can both positions be valid?
I believe so, and I think it’s important to look at the technologies involved. Certainly, the ability of cloud platform providers to provide services based on infrastructure components such as MySQL and Tomcat threatens potential support revenues for on-premise deployments, but SugarCRM’s launch of CRM Applications on Windows Azure proves that just because the code is open source, does not mean that the cloud platform provider will automatically cut the vendor out of the picture.
Perhaps the difference with SugarCRM is that it is application, rather than infrastructure. Perhaps it is also the fact that SugarCRM has been proactive about exploring on-demand and cloud delivery models.
One of the reasons AWS was able to deliver the a managed MySQL service on EC2 was, frankly, because Sun had not already done so. All the realtional database vendors made their products available as AMIs on AWS in 2008 and since then they have done almost nothing about innovating delivery options abound those AMIs.
Had Sun launched MySQL-as-a-service on EC2 it could have grabbed the market share that AWS will now grab with RDS. I’m not sure why Sun failed to do this, incidentally. FathomDB did it, although it lacked the market presence to prevent AWS stealing the limelight. I would argue that Sun/MySQL could have done so.
Savio argues that open source specialists faced with this dilemma should double-down on their investments in “proprietary features in the ‘enterprise version of the open source product, which are note available in the ‘free community’ version”.
Certainly that is one opportunity for differentiation, but I would also argue that open source specialist vendors should also be concentrating on working with cloud platform providers to bring managed service deployments to market before the platform providers beat them to it.
I think in the long-term we’ll see more vendors providing open source software for on-premise deployment while offering enterprise versions via paid managed service deployments on cloud platforms, along with services to help customers migrate their data/applications from one deployment option to the other.
And if you’re wondering why a cloud provider would bother working with an open source specialist vendor, rather than just taking their code, consider this: one of the cloud providers mentioned in this post pays for enterprise Linux support subscriptions rather than using a community Linux or supporting its Linux servers internally. And it isn’t Microsoft.
Cloud computing is undeniably a threat to the monetization of open source software, but it is also an opportunity. Be quick or be dead.
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