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Why Open Source is the key to cloud innovation

Thor Olavsrud | April 16, 2012
In the 25 years since Richard Stallman wrote the GNU General Public License, free and open source software (FOSS) have become pervasive in computing: Linux, Apache HTTP Server, MySQL and more can be found in large numbers of enterprises across the globe. And open source is now increasingly undergirding cloud computing as well.

Stallman's contention has its roots in the philosophical divide between free software and open source software. The open source movement, Stallman says, is a development methodology with a practical focus on making the source code available. The free software movement, on the other hand, promotes an ethical stance on how users should be able to interact with their software.

For Stallman, free software must provide users with four essential freedoms:

1. The freedom to run the program as you wish

2. The freedom to study and change the source code so it does what you wish

3. The freedom to redistribute exact copies

4. The freedom to redistribute copies of your modified versions

While the open source definition and the free software definition are nearly identical, they seem to come apart at the seams when it comes to cloud.

"Releasing the server software source code does benefit the community: Suitably skilled users can set up similar servers, perhaps changing the software," Stallman wrote. "But none of these servers would give you control over computing you do on it, unless it's your server. The rest would all be SaaS. SaaS always subjects you to the power of the server operator, and the only remedy is, Don't use SaaS!. Don't use someone else's server to do your own computing on data provided by you."

Meanwhile, the open source world is working feverishly across the cloud stack--Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), SaaS, Data Storage as a Service (DaaS)--and in cloud management.

The Properties of Open Cloud

Che says Red Hat believes in the open cloud, which he says has seven defining properties:

1. It's open source. "That's the foundation upon which you build," Che says.

2. It's based on collaborative development. "There's got to be a viable, independent community around the project," he says. "That dynamic has to be there, otherwise it's just a proprietary company releasing its source code."

3. It's based on open standards and open formats that are not tied into proprietary technology.

4. It gives you the freedom to use your intellectual property.

5. It gives users a choice of infrastructure. They get to choose their infrastructure provider and cloud provider.

6. It has open APIs. "It's got to be pluggable and extensible," Che says. "It can't be restricted by what you got out of the box."

7. It has to be portable to other clouds. It can't lock you in to a particular vendor.

"One of the areas where we need an open cloud is to give you the ability to have interoperability and portability across different clouds," Che says. "I should be able to manage a hybrid cloud that spans across all these different technologies."


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