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Open Source in the Cloud (Part 3)

Previously, we talked about the growth of the open-source movement, its benefits to businesses and the implications for business models.  In our third and final installment on the subject, we will look at what it takes to adopt open-source in the cloud.

Open Source in the Cloud: Adoption and Considerations

Open source and cloud computing both create a set of questions for the industry. For example, is there any value in free and open source licenses if all are based on the act of software distribution and if software is no longer distributed, but merely performed in the cloud? How can the freedom to innovate be preserved when the competitive advantage of online players comes from massive databases created via user contribution, which literally get better the more people use them, raising seemingly impregnable barriers to new competition?

The key is to rediscover what makes open source tick in the new context of the cloud. It’s important to recognize that open source has several key dimensions that contribute to its success:

  1. Licenses that permit and encourage redistribution, modification, and even forking (creating an independent project from one piece of software)
  2. An architecture that enables programs to be used as components wherever possible and to be extended rather than replaced to provide new functions
  3. Low barriers for new users to try the software
  4. Low barriers for developers wanting to build new applications and share them with the world

The cloud computing industry is still evolving and has not yet determined which licenses will allow forking of Web 2.0 and cloud applications, especially because the lock-in provided by many of these applications comes from their data rather than their code. Given this context, each enterprise must ask certain questions concerning any software, proprietary or open source:

  1. Why is there a “productization gap” in most open-source projects?
  2. How can the maturity of open source be evaluated?
  3. How can the ROI of open source be calculated?
  4. What skills are needed to use open-source cloud applications in the enterprise?
  5. What kinds of open-source projects are appropriate for IT departments at the beginner, intermediate, advanced, and expert levels?
  6. What questions need to be answered by an open-source strategy?
  7. What policies for governance can be instituted to control the adoption of open source?
  8. What new commercial services can help manage the risks of open source?
  9. Do differences in open-source licenses matter? 10. How will using open source transform an IT department?

The industry is a long way from having all the answers to these questions, and often, the right professional services partner is a critical element in making open source and cloud computing work in tandem. The right professional services provider can provide best-practice advice and hands-on assistance with a wide range of technical and business process issues related to the use of open source in the cloud.

Open-source software is rapidly becoming more accepted by customers as a viable alternative to proprietary software, and cloud computing vendors are starting to provide solutions that meet the needs of the enterprise. By providing the key bridge between the enterprise and open-source communities, professional service providers can be pivotal in successfully adopting and implementing open source in the cloud. Although cloud-computing vendors may have offerings based on open-source software, good technologies are not, in and of themselves, solutions. The long-term key to successful open-source and cloud technologies is finding the right partner to create useful solutions out of disjointed technology components.

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Brad Vaughan is a twenty year veteran consultant working with companies around the globe to transform technology infrastructure to deliver enhanced business services.