A blog for the enterprise open source community
Cloud openness contemplatedJay Lyman, April 14, 2010 @ 6:35 pm ET
I caught some of the keynotes and discussion at the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit today, and was particularly interested in the panel discussion on open source and cloud computing. While we are used to hearing and talking about how important open source software is to cloud computing (open source giving to cloud computing), moderator John Mark Walker posed the question of whether cloud computing gives back? The discussion also rightfully focused on openness in cloud computing, how open source might or might not translate to cloud openness and the importance of data to be open as well.
The discussion also centered on some issues regarding open standards and how open is open enough for cloud computing? It may depend on who you ask, but I tend to think that the flexibility, interoperability and portability advantages of open source software will dictate its continued use and true openness in the cloud.
However, this is not always the case. When we consider openness in the mobile market, we see that while open source software is going into more and more smartphones and mobile devices, by the time it gets into the product and into the hands of consumers, it ends up closed. This is not necessarily a violation of open source license, either in rule or in spirit, but rather the use, incorporation and reliance on open source alongside proprietary products, strategies and companies, typically under a permissive license. Much of it also has to do with the need, both perceived and real, for control of code in these devices among hardware, software, wireless carrier and other players with a stake.
Another interesting perspective of what open source means, or doesn’t mean, in terms of cloud computing, standards and interoperability comes from the Xen community’s Simon Crosby of Citrix.
One of the most interesting things to watch when considering whether cloud computing gives back to open source is the AGPLv3 license, which is viewed in different ways as both a burden and a boon to network-based, distributed development by various parties. We continue to see vendors, such as mobile software player Funambol, as strong supporters of AGPL while others, such as Google, continue their resistence to it.
The AGPL also came up in the Linux Foundation Collaboration summit panel again, and while I don’t think the license currently serves as the answer to whether cloud computing gives back to open source, we do see some benefits to open source from cloud computing, both in terms of code, projects and communities and the commercial vendors leveraging open source software. In terms of code, large users of open source software projects, such Linux, MySQL, Hadoop, Cassandra, help to raise the profile and credibility of open source. Whether corporations or university campuses, these large users can also be among the most active community participants — driving features and shaking out bugs, and most prolific code contributors — creating features and extensions and enlarging the ecosystem. In terms of commercial open source vendors, cloud computing can also mitigate the challenges of balancing and differentiating free, community versions and separate, paid versions. If the vendor is able to offer support, services or even extensions with the cloud version of its software, it is easily separated from a free, community version that may be available for free, but not from the cloud.
Of course, there is more that cloud computing can do for open source and there is much more that has to be done to ensure true openness in cloud computing, particularly when some existing and emerging defacto standards are anything but open, but for all that open source is to cloud computing, cloud computing seems to be returning the favor to some degree already.
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