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Open source leads the way into the cloud

By Arsalan Farooq, founder and CEO of Convirture, special to Network World
August 29, 2012 10:58 AM ET

Network World - This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter’s approach.

Virtualization is now a well-established technology in enterprise computing. And in virtualization, VMware is the established leader. But virtualization has begat cloud computing and now the field of play in cloud computing is far more open thanks to open source technologies.

Looking around the cloud computing landscape, it is impossible to not find an explicit example of open source technology in use. In every layer of the cloud, there is open source to be found, from Linux at the operating system level to a panoply of open source cloud management tools that are very much the forward edge of the cloud ecosystem.

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Looking at this level, we find technologies like CloudStack, Eucalyptus, and the hotter-than-the-sun OpenStack that are textbook examples of open source innovation in cloud computing; tools that enable sophisticated private and public cloud management for developers and system admins to have granular control over cloud-based apps and resources.

But why is open source the leader for innovation and success within cloud computing? How has it become the dominating form of technology in this exploding new field?

To understand the success of open source in cloud computing it is important to step back a bit and understand what we are describing when we refer to open source.

Open source has often been described as a business model, referring to companies that derive their revenue from software (and, lately, hardware) that is open source. This broad definition is rather off the mark. While a revenue model can be driven by open source products, the model itself is not open source.

For our purposes, we will use the most basic definition of open source: technology that is published under a true open source license, either the restrictive free software licenses such as those found in the GPL family of licenses, or the more permissive ones such as Apache Software or BSD licenses.

Using this definition enables us to discuss a variety of technologies, regardless of the specific business model. It avoids, for instance, the need to discuss the merits of so-called "open core" models that feature a community-based central core software component that's distributed freely, surrounded by extras and add-ons that can be purchased or subscribed to at an additional cost from the vendor.

With this definition in hand, it becomes clear that there are three main reasons why open source is so central to the success of cloud computing.

* Legitimacy. One of the very first, and perhaps more obvious reasons for the presence of open source in cloud computing is the fact that it is so highly pervasive already within the mindset of IT.

Even two years ago, a four-year survey conducted by cloud vendor Zenoss showed that open source was a significant presence in 98% of enterprise companies. It is highly unlikely that this number has dropped in the ensuing two years, which means open source is a part of essentially every enterprise operation out there today.

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