Cloud Computing: Not Just Open Source, but *Like* Open Source


One of the many interesting replies that Cloudera's Mike Olson gave in his Open Enterprise interview yesterday concerned whether cloud computing was a threat or oportunity for open source. Here's what he said:

I think it's orthogonal. Cloud computing is about how you deliver software; open source is about how you develop and distribute it. The big cloud players are generally good citizens in the open source world, and open source software powers the cloud companies and the Internet generally.

Nonetheless, one of the key issues is what is required to created truly *open* cloud computing services. Open source software is just part of this: portability of data stored in the cloud is also a key element. But there's another vitally important aspect that I've not seen discussed much before.

It's popped up in a typically thoughtful post from Sun's Tim Bray, writing about his employer's new cloud offering:

The Announcement · We’re going to be rolling out a Sun Cloud offering later this year. It’s going to have a storage service that’ll offer WebDAV and something S3-flavored. Also, there’ll be a compute service, based partly on the Q-layer technology.

And it’s got an API.

The API sounds interesting:

The API · This is a unified view of the storage and compute and networking services. It’s built around the notion of a “Virtual Data Center” (VDC), which contains networks and clusters of servers and public IP addresses and storage services. The idea is to give you the administrative and operational handles to build something really big and ambitious. The VDC notion is really slick and I think something like it is going to be required in any serious cloud API going forward.

But the really interesting – and original – bit is the following:

Zero Barrier to Exit · Maybe the single most interesting thing about this API is that the spec is published under a Creative Commons “Attribution” license, which means that pretty well anybody can do pretty well anything with it.

I’m pretty convinced that if Cloud technology is going to take off, there’ll have to be a competitive ecosystem; so that when you bet on a service provider, if the relationship doesn’t work out there’s a way to take your business to another provider with relatively little operational pain. Put another way: no lock-in.

This goes beyond even open data – after all, it's all very well being able to take your data, but if you can't just plug it into another cloud computing service, it doesn't really do you much good. So this is really about creating an open cloud computing platform that *anyone* can not only use, but actually implement as an alternative to Sun's offering, and yet remain compatible with it. Of course, this is precisely why open source has flourished: you're never locked into a vendor - you can simply take your data and business to a someone else using the same software.

I think that Bray – as usual – is absolutely right here: this is really the key component of Sun's offering, and a real expansion of open cloud computing.

Let's hope it doesn't get lost in the frenzy of “rationalisation” that would follow any takeover of Sun by IBM, something which is now being talked about.