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The Open Cloud: There's a Right Way

The Open Cloud: There's a Right Way

A company that tries to implement a cloud infrastructure in a closed-source manner is already going against the grain, adopting an approach contrary to that of the companies that built the cloud. If you consider doing things the closed-source way, you should prepare yourself to buy more expensive hardware, experience vendor lock-in, and perhaps be surprised by unexpected costs.

By Sheng Liang
12/07/10 5:00 AM PT

There is a great deal of commotion about the cloud, and rightfully so, but the noise can be overwhelming. The market is crowded with different products and platforms from the smallest of startups to industry behemoths, a condition that is not helped by cloudwashing and other tactics designed to take advantage of the cloud's lucrative popularity.

Within this environment, how can a company confidently select the right platform for its private cloud infrastructure?

The Cloud's Open Source Roots

Open source became one of the core foundations of cloud computing as early cloud pioneers used the freely available, freely distributable model to power their Web-scale deployments -- achieving an unprecedented level of scale at a bare-bones cost. Amazon built its cloud to be a business, making it possible to easily recoup its investment by charging other companies usage fees.

Most other companies, though, are not building a cloud to resell. To enterprises today, the attraction of open source is about the ability to develop a more flexible infrastructure and avoid vendor lock-in that often results from proprietary systems.

They want to use open technologies to get their cloud infrastructure up and running at the lowest cost and in the fastest way possible. At the same time, they gain the flexibility of customization that open source offers; they can build whatever they want.

When planning a cloud infrastructure, consider whether you want to build it yourself or choose to partner with an open source vendor that has completed 80 to 90 percent of the work, leaving you to do only 10 to 20 percent to customize it for your company.

The Current Cloud and the Case for Open Source

The cloud comprises commoditized open source components, which many people -- myself included -- believe is the only way possible to achieve the true economics of the cloud.

Consider Amazon, a huge enterprise cloud provider that is using open source Xen... with open source Hadoop... with open source Chef... with open source insert-component-name-here.

In fact, quite a few large-scale enterprise vendors are developing solutions termed "cloud," including Google, Yahoo and Salesforce.com among others. How are they managing to do this? By using open source software on commodity hardware and scaling it across everything they do.

A company that tries to implement a cloud infrastructure in a closed-source manner is already going against the grain, adopting an approach contrary to that of the companies that built the cloud. If you consider doing things the closed-source way, you should prepare yourself to buy more expensive hardware, experience vendor lock-in, and perhaps be surprised by unexpected costs.

Implementation Considerations

There is a broad spectrum of cloud solutions, each of which offers a different scale of finish and polish, whether your company needs to integrate the cloud with its legacy enterprise network elements, or one that supports the rules and regulations around compliance.

As you evaluate enterprise-grade cloud vendors and solutions, be sure to consider the following factors/questions:

  • How flexible is the technology?
  • What are you trying to accomplish with the cloud -- i.e., where are the optimal workloads in your organization that would benefit the most from a cloud infrastructure?
  • Is it truly enterprise-grade? Does it support integration or partnerships?
  • How much of the solution is complete?
  • Does the vendor have referenceable implementations? If so, do they match the scale of your planned deployment?
  • Some vendors reference results that are based on a lab setup of five to 10 computers, which is not too challenging. Testing on tens of thousands of computers is a different story altogether.
  • How much support will the vendor provide?

The success of the deployment will ultimately define the success of the open source project. With Linux, the vendors that had the most enterprise users did so because they achieved the right level of solution and innovation for the enterprise.

Enterprises typically need the best support, code, interoperability, technology and so forth. Success will also depend on a company determining where the cloud makes the most sense in the organization and where it can provide maximum benefit to the business.

Community Clout

By their nature, open source technologies encourage collaboration and community creation. Community member companies dedicate themselves to open standards and innovation, resulting in greater choice and flexibility to consumers of their technologies.

For example, the communities forming around Linux distributions like Red Hat, Ubuntu and CentOS, as well as virtualization technologies like KVM and Xen, are driving forces in the establishment of cloud computing standards. OpenStack is one of the largest open source projects on the planet.

For service providers, this means a variety of software and services are available to customize and deploy their offerings. For enterprises, it means they are able to quickly and easily migrate solutions to the vendors that provide the best service and support for their specific needs.

When considering vendors for your cloud deployment, consider which vendor was the first to gain users and get to the community. The winner will be the company able to use community engagement and turn it into a viable commercial product. The way to determine this is by observing which vendor succeeds in gaining customers.

As customers start to engage and pay for open source technologies, platforms become defined. As platforms become defined, developers want to participate in the most active project community, and they contribute their intelligence and coding skills to further develop that platform.

Customers are drawn to the project by its constant improvements and evolution. It becomes a cycle that feeds the success of the open source project and platform: Developers bring customers, and customers bring more developers.

As your company begins to enter the cloud, you will want to have vendors that are actively engaged in their community to help drive the interoperability and flexibility you require.


Sheng Liang is CEO and founder of Cloud.com.


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