Open Source Scales Better Than Proprietary, The Cloud Needs Massive Scale to Succeed, Therefore the Cloud Needs Open Source

Inherently does the development process of open source software give it an advantage resulting in better scale? The future success of cloud computing may be tied to that

As I was busy travelling around this week I happened to read two articles one right after the other. In spite of the randomness in which I read, putting these two together, I had a bit of an epiphany. In order for cloud computing to truly succeed and reach the lofty heights some project for it, it will take the scalability of open source. So said another way, only open source can save the cloud.

How do you feel about that? I am not sure if Microsoft would agree with it. I have to admit in thinking this through I thought a little bit about the Monty Python scene in "Search for the Holy Grail". You know the one, how do you know if a woman is a witch. Well a witch burns, what else burns? Wood. OK, wood floats, what else floats? A duck. Therefore if the woman weighs as much as a duck she must be a witch. Convoluted logic at its best! But are we doing the same thing here? Lets look a little deeper at the components of my hypothesis.

Lets take the first part. Does the open source development process result in software that is more scalable? This is the view of Will Schroeder, CEO, Kitware in this article.

Schroeder, writing specifically about how open source can help in the healthcare industry, puts forth the often used argument, that because open source code has more eyes on it, because customers and other developers can actually see the code, because the fix and release cycle can be much faster in open source, the result is software that is more flexible, robust and stable. Hence more scalable. 

The problem is I don't know if I agree with this. I don't subscribe to the 1000's of elves in cyberspace fixing bugs in open source code. I think the fact is that a very small number of code contributors actually work on any given open source project.  Yes Linux and Apache are the exceptions, but by and large most open source projects actually have a tiny number of code contributors.

When we look at some of the very successful open source projects, especially those used in cloud and large scale web applications, there is usually a company or two or even three behind them.  Would Cassandra have succeeded without Facebook? For me the real power of open source leading to scalability is the collaboration of multiple companies contributing resources to an open source project that serves their own goals, as well as the community. So while Cassandra helped Facebook, it helped Twitter too.  So though Twitter and Facebook may be somewhat competitive, they put that aside to each work on Cassandra for their own goals.

Think about it. Would Microsoft and Oracle or Microsoft and Sun before Oracle, both work on the same software project knowing it would help the other? Not likely to happen. So for me what is fueling the great scalability of open source software is not an inherent advantage in the process or the amount of developers working it. It is the fact that it has given companies that otherwise would not collaborate on code together the chance to do so.  I think that is the secret sauce of open source.

Now the 2nd article I read comes from the Rackspace Cloud Computing blog and is actually a slide show by Brett Piatt from the recent Cloud Connect conference.  In the slide show Piatt gives a nice if somewhat simplified overview of the history of open source, how cloud benefits from OSS and most importantly that cloud needs massive scale to succeed. Here is the slide show:

 Future of Open Source in a Cloudy World

View more presentations from Bret Piatt.

Now again, would technology developed by Microsoft not provide the scalability the cloud needs to succeed? Certainly certain large companies can bring massive resources to bear on the issue. Interoperability is another advantage of OSS though.  Would a customer on the Microsoft cloud platform be able to just switch over to another cloud provider without massive heartburn? For that matter, would any cloud customer be able to switch cloud providers without massive heartburn?

The answer could determine how successful cloud computing actually will be and whether it will be dominated by open source or not. 

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