No, the Cloud is Not Killing Open Source

by Ostatic Staff - Sep. 11, 2009

Andrea DiMaio from the Gartner Blog Network asks an interesting question in a post titled "Is Cloud Computing Killing Open Source in Government?," and InfoWorld weighs in on the issue as well. One might as well not limit the question to government usage. Is cloud computing killing open source in general? DiMaio notes that government officials in London and Washington D.C. are finding that primary drivers for open source adoption--including cost savings and vendor independence--are going away, while free, cloud applications proliferate and grab headlines.

Do Google Docs and Zoho's applications spell doom for, say, the OpenOffice suite of productivity applications? I think cloud computing and open source are on a collision course to grow together, with neither killing the other.

In North Bridge Partners' survey on the future of open source earlier this year, respondents agreed that Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications have more potential to be disruptive in the open source arena than many other trends. Of course, one could interpret "disruptive" as meaning that hosted applications and the world of SaaS will compromise open source, but I don't think that's what the respondents meant. I think they meant that applications hosted on the web are prime opportunities for open source, where they can run open source components or be open source from end to end.

Actually, DiMaio concedes some of this in her opening argument:

"I know that some readers will raise their eyebrows reading the title [of her post]. After all, cloud computing is intimately connected to open source: Linux servers are at the basis of most cloud infrastructures, and several applications that can be consumed as a cloud-based service are either open source or based on open source components. One may be almost tempted to look at the two as being strictly intertwined and mutually dependent."

One interesting point that DiMaio makes is that, increasingly, government agencies are getting open source software from commercial open source companies, so the potential attraction of using software that frees users from being tied to a vendor isn't there. But I don't think the Red Hats, Alfrescos, and Jaspersofts of the world diminish value from open source adoption. They add to it, by supporting free applications, where a common criticism of open source solutions is lack of support.

For that matter, Cloudera, which provides commercial support for the open source Hadoop software framework, straddles the worlds of cloud computing and open source precisely in the middle. Countless ambitious cloud initiatives rely on Hadoop, such as this one at the New York Times. As another example of how cloud computing and open source can walk down common paths, Ulteo, which we've covered before, allows users to use the OpenOffice applications online, and offers them free storage. Ulteo is very competitive with Zoho and Google Docs in terms of quality of its offering, but it's combining cloud services with open source. 

And, just yesterday, we noted that Sam Ramji--Microsoft's open source czar, is leaving the company "for a cloud infrastructure startup in Silicon Valley." Open source people and pundits are embracing the cloud, too.

Need another example of this convergence? Earlier today, we covered Tornado Web Server, which was proprietary web-centric software underlying FriendFeed, and is now free and open source. It could power many new social sites. There are many more of these types of examples of convergence.

InfoWorld's David Linthicum seems to partially agree with DiMaio's post, but he notes this:

"What's funny about all this is that cloud computing has actually expanded the use of open source technology. The fact is that almost all of the larger cloud computing providers leverage open source to drive their datacenters and at a massive scale."

That's true, too. I think the future of cloud computing and open source are inextricably intertwined. Open source will find its way to the cloud, and vice-versa.