Open Source in Cloud Computing Really “Under the Radar”

Clearly, the underlying technology of cloud computing will be based on open source software–that is, if the three cloud infrastructure hopefuls addressing a standing room-only crowd of more than 350 venture capital firms, large company CTOS and CIOs, and other cloud hopefuls–are as successful in their efforts as the show‚Äôs judges and audience anticipated.

All three infrastructure firms, Abiquo, Eucalyptus, and Zimory (and many of the presenting companies) have built their technologies, their companies, and their hopes on open source. But buyers of cloud resources do not seem to care whether the underlying technology is open source software (OSS). And that’s just the way many of these companies using open source like it.

The Under the Radar “Clearing the Clouds” conference last Friday in Mountain View, California brought together 24 start-ups from around the world to pitch their cloud technologies to an audience of money and potential partners and customers. In the key opening session (the only session for the full audience) on cloud infrastructure, all three company CEOs spoke of the importance of open source to the cloud.

Diego Marino, CEO of Barcelona-based Abiquo, called openness his “killer feature.” Abiquo offers an open-source cloud-computing platform for managing virtual datacenters. He maintained that the work of his community assured Abiquo was built by the smartest developers.

“I can hire the smartest developers,” Marino said. “But as a small company, using the huge amount of community developers make my developers even smarter.” This community also helps him build partnerships more quickly.

At the opening panel discussion, Eli Lilly‚Äôs David Powers expressed concern about losing data to start-up cloud providers who fail–and suggested open source, besides being a more open infrastructure, was less likely to cause lock-in and data loss.

Open source also offers protection in case the commercial supporter fails as well, according to the panelists.

AT&T‚Äôs Joe Weinman–a judge for the infrastructure session–called OSS ‚Äúripe for opportunity‚Äù in the cloud–but he warned vendors not to pitch ‚Äúwe‚Äôre open source, so we‚Äôre cheap.”

“Open source has been disruptive before, but now the opportunities could be greater,” Weinman said. “But it shouldn’t be a pricing proposition.”

When the audience was asked by session moderator Jeremy Toeman of Stage Two Consulting if open source was important to their purchasing decision–only a few dozen hands went up. However, when asked if any felt OSS was irrelevant, no hands were raised.

Marino agreed that customers do not care whether Abiquo was built on open source. “They only care that it is a good product and that it does what they need it to do.”

According to Behrend Freese, CEO of Zimory, open source was critical to building Zimory‚Äôs cloud solution. Zimory enables efficient use of infrastructure resources – harnessing heterogeneous virtual servers across one–or many–data centers to build an internal computing cloud. Zimory released the first internet-based ‚Äúcloud marketplace‚Äù in January (think Amazon EC2 meets eBay).

‚ÄúOpen source was built for connectivity, for infrastructure–for the Internet,‚Äù said Freese. ‚ÄúUsing open source gives us a solid base of code and protects our customers from lock in.‚Äù

Rich Wolski, CEO of Eucalyptus–a spin-off from UC Santa Barbara and an open-source software infrastructure for implementing cloud computing on clusters said the company is already integrated in Ubuntu 9.04, Wolski quoted Gartner calling Eucalyptus the ‚ÄúLinux of the clouds.‚Äù

According to Wolski, prospective cloud buyers were looking for self service and automation as well as protection from unexpected deployment and storage costs. Eucalyptus, built from commodity Linux components, currently has a services and consulting model but plans to offer premium enterprise products.

Abiquo’s Marino said the major concerns facing his customers were privacy, security, and standards (interoperability). It was open source‚Äô interoperability that Marino called his killer feature–claiming Abiquo‚Äôs technology enables customers to create and manage complex architectures of information systems from one unique platform (such as physical and virtual servers, networks, applications, storage, etc).

Several times during the panel discussion and the questions to panelists, the recent McKinsey study on cloud computing came up. In essence, McKinsey laid doubt that an enterprise would outsource its entire IT to the cloud. Most panelists–and presenters–felt that McKinsey missed the point.

“Think of it like a rental car,” said Steve Heck with Getty Images. “Rental cars are more expensive by day then renting or buying a car, but a lot cheaper than buying a car every time you travel somewhere.”

‚ÄúOwn the base–rent the spike,‚Äù said Weinman.

Freese called this phenomenon the “breathing cloud.”

“A true enterprise cloud captures and releases capacity on demand,” he said. “That capacity can come internally, or externally. The key is to avoid the costs of over provisioning but still being prepared for peak workloads.”

Many of the other 24 companies presenting also use open source as a base to their technology, but for most, that use was an afterthought to their pitch.

Clearly, open source is driving and enabling much of the work in the cloud–even when its use is not so clear.