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The Rise of Open Source Clouds
APR 30, 2014 15:37 PM
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When I started exploring Cloud Computing, I was blown away by what Amazon and Google could offer.  With Amazon I could create computers running the Windows or Linux operating systems, with various database software already installed.  Have you ever done this yourself on your own hardware?  It can take hours!  And if problems occur, way longer.  I was impressed and asked my company if we could use this wonderful feature.  


Their answer was no.  And when I thought about it, that made sense.  Most companies are hesitant to put their engineering resources on another companies infrastructure.  And when I got the bill from Amazon - $379 in one month for a server that I created that I did nothing with - it really made sense.  I wasn’t paying attention to their billing structure.   


Because of these reasons - cost and control - open source software for cloud computing is very popular.  Companies do not want to lock into one vendor.  And there are simply too many commercial vendors with their own APIs on the market today.  Most of these APIs are not formed around any standards yet, that companies that build solutions around these APIs will lose customers if they lock in.  Have you ever seen a company lock into a vendor’s software only to have that vendor go bankrupt?  I have.  Or have you ever seen a company have to jump through crazy hoops because a vendor got so powerful they dictated an industry standard?  I have.  Companies don’t want either of those cases, thus they turn to open source solutions.  


When looking at open source options, it depends if you want to use PaaS, IaaS, or SaaS for what solutions you might choose.  If we consider PaaS (Platform as a Service), there are many options available for downloading code and building your own cloud. No matter what, you will have to design your own cloud system.  But these options allow you to try out various solutions before you commit and in general built around open standards.  Each of the open source solutions supports various hypervisors, most of which are open source.  CloudFoundry, OpenStack, and Eucalyptus Systems are ones that I am familiar with but there are many more.  You can get started with each of these systems as documentation will guide you through installation and set up.  However, I did not find it easy.  It took time and expertise, some of which I had to acquire.


At the I2CE Conference in Boston, MA, I attended an all day tutorial on Open Source Cloud Computing.  The morning presenters Salman Baset (IBM Research) and Upendra Sharma (IBM Research), presented a deep dive into OpenStack.  This paper covers much of what they presented:  OpenStack has grown almost 10 times in size in three years and what started out as a relatively simple solution is now complex.   We were able to go into the running software and code and they were able to walk us around configuration.  The pointed out that if you were to build an offer IaaS on your cloud offering, this requires more responsibility on your part versus offering PaaS.  


One thing to consider is the license type of the software you use.  Most use an Apache 2.0 where you don’t need to share your modifications.  However, other license types require you to share any modifications you make.  In addition, OpenStack requires you to follow the OpenStack Principles:


On a side note, Richard Stallman has lashed out at cloud computing.

I think he has some very good points.  I read about a case where a lawyer put all their case work on the cloud.  A disgruntled employee left the company and gave the login credentials to a competitive lawyer who won a case against this lawyer because he had notes about the competing lawyers case.  Scary.  At least with open source you aren’t locked into a proprietary system.  But you should be aware of putting your data offsite and strategically design what should be going there.  


Open source cloud computing software is continuing to grow at a rapid rate.  It opens cloud to markets that may not have been able to to use cloud when the technology emerged.  It also allows all of us to create and mold our own clouds.  Consider the long term use of your cloud before you lock in to a vendor.  And for those of you who just want to learn, dive right in!


Christine Miyachi has almost 30 years of experience working for startups and large corporations. She writes a blog about software architecture: She is currently a principal systems engineer and architect at Xerox Corporation and holds several patents.  She works on Xerox’s Extensible Interface Platform which is a software platform upon which developers can use standard web-based tools to create server-based applications that can be configured for the multi-function peripheral’s  touch-screen user interface. Miyachi graduated from the University of Rochester with a BS in electrical engineering. She holds two MIT degrees: an MS in technology and policy/electrical engineering and computer science and an MS in engineering and management.  Chris served as the chair of the IEEE STC on Cloud Computing from 2013-2014 and is currently the lead for Communications of the STC CC.  


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