technology as infrastructure, act two

Continued from, Technology as Infrastructure, Act One.

Act Two

Cnet's Matt Assay covering this post by RedMonk's Stephen O'Grady suggests that an "open source cloud" is unlikely because superstructure (hardware/concrete power) matters more than infrastructure (software)--though in IT "infrastructure" means something different, so go read Stephen's article.

It's my understanding that, in a manner of speaking, open source has already "won" this game. Though google's code is proprietary, it runs on a Linux/java-script/python platform. Amazon's "cloud" (EC2) runs on Xen (the open source virtualization platform) and nearly all of the operating system choices are linux based. (Solaris and Windows, are options).

I guess the question of "what cloud" would seem trite at this point, but I think clarifying "which cloud" is crucial at this point, particularly with regards to openness. There seem to be several:

  • Cloud infrastructure. Web servers, hosting, email servers. Traditionally these are things an institution ran their own servers for, these days that same institution might run their servers on some sort of virtualized hardware for which there are many providers.

    How open? Open. There are certainly proprietary virtualization tools (VMware, windows-whatever, etc.), and you can vitalize windows, and I suppose HP-UX and AIX are getting virtualized as well. But Linux-based operating systems are likely virtualized at astonishing rates compared to non-open source OSes. And much of the server infrastructure (sendmail, postfix/exim, Apache, etc.) is open source at some point.

    In point of fact, this cloud is more or less the way it's always been and is, I'd argue, open-source's "home turf."

  • Cloud applications: consumer. This would be stuff like Gmail, flickr, wikipedia, twitter, facebok, ubuntuONE, googe docs, google wave, and other "application services" targeted at non-commercial/enterprise consumers and very small groups of people. This cloud consists of entirely software, provided as services and is largely dominated by google, and other big players (Microsoft, yahoo, etc.)

    How open? Not very. This space looks very much like the desktop computing world looked in the mid-90s. Very proprietary, very closed, the alternatives are pretty primitive, and have a hard time doing anything but throwing rocks at the feet of the giant (google.)

  • Cloud applications: enterprise. This would be things like SalesForce (a software-as-a-service CRM tool.) and other SaaS application. I suppose google-apps-for-domains falls under this category, as does pretty much anything that uses the term SaaS.

    How open? Not very. SaaS is basically Proprietary Software: The Next Generation as the business model is based on the exclusivity of rights over the source code. At the same time, in most sectors there are viable open source projects that are competing with the proprietary options: SugarCRM, Horde, Squirrel Mail, etc.

  • Cloud services: enterprise. This is what act one covered or eluded to, but generally this covers things like PBX systems, all the stuff that runs corporate intranets, groupware applications (some of which are open source), collaboration tools, internal issue tracking systems, shared storage systems.

    How open? Reasonably open. Certainly there's a lot of variance here, but for the most part, but Asterisk for PBX-stuff, there are a number of open source groupware applications. Jira/perforce/bitkeeper aren't open source, but Trac/SVN/git are. The samba project kills in this area and is a drop in replacement for Microsoft's file-sharing systems.

The relationship, between open source and "the cloud," thus, depends a lot on what you're talking about. I guess this means there needs to be an "act three," to cover specific user strategies. Because, regardless of which cloud you use, your freedom has more to do with practice than it does with some inherent capability of the software stack.

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