Red Hat: What an open cloud really means

Red Hat officials discuss characteristics, benefits of open clouds

Open source cloud offerings have specific characteristics that provide benefits above and beyond proprietary offerings, two top officials at Red Hat said during a webinar today.

"Everyone's talking openness when it comes to cloud computing, because it's something users say they want," said Gordon Haff, cloud evangelist for Red Hat. "And providers are saying, 'Yeah, yeah, we're open.' But in fact, 'openness' has a narrow definition."

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Cloud providers seem to have latched on to the idea of openness in the cloud. This month, for example, Amazon Web Services announced an agreement with Eucalyptus, which is an open source provider of private cloud systems, that will allow for easier connection of open-source private clouds with AWS' public cloud offerings.

Meanwhile, the OpenStack movement is advancing. Started two years ago by Rackspace and NASA, it has now grown to include more than 150 companies and more than 2,000 developers. Plus, some major backers have signed on to the project, including HP and Dell. Meanwhile, some startups, such as Piston Cloud, are already selling open-source cloud solutions based on the OpenStack software.

But Haff and CIO Lee Congdon said true open projects have a number of characteristics that users should look for. For example, open clouds are fundamentally based on an open source code developed and supported by a viable independent community that is not run by a single vendor. Open clouds are unencumbered by patents and intellectual property restrictions, which means they have extensible and open application program interfaces (APIs) that are shared within the community, gives users the ability to move across various cloud environments easily.

These characteristics create a series of benefits that Congdon said make open clouds superior to proprietary offerings. "The power of open source is about being able to have collaboration, the sharing of resources and rolling back out into the community," Congdon said. In open source projects, there are "multiple ways to solve a problem," which gives users the freedom and flexibility to scale their systems and quickly adapt to enterprise needs, all while running on legacy hardware systems.

Still Congdon said there are concerns with implementing cloud strategies, particularly in the software-as-a-service market, where he said there can be a risk of vendor lock in. "SaaS is great, it's made a number of important advances, but lock-in is a real concern for many SaaS solutions, so you have to be careful," he said. Consider if that vendor is stable, if it will be acquired, and if so what that could mean for the application.

Those concerns haven't stopped Red Hat from embracing the cloud internally though. Congdon said the company has about a third of its applications in a SaaS-based cloud environment. "We don't know yet where it's going to make sense to stop moving applications to the cloud," he said. Red Hat will continue to use products and services internally so it can be used as a reference customer, he said. "We're going to be pushing a lot of stuff into public cloud environments in the coming years and we'll be partnering with business users on when and where that makes sense," Congdon said. "So we're just getting started."

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social media. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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