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Tuesday
Sep302008

Clouds and F/OSS

Stephen O'Grady, one of the indominable Redmonk analysts, has a great response to a recent interview of Richard Stallman as reported by the Guardian

Over the past few days, the noise generated by the interview, in which Stallman refers to cloud computing as "stupidity" and "marketing hype" has been reminiscent of religious arguments or ideological debates on free market economics in the US Congress. 

However, I'd really have to recommend O'Grady's thoughtful treatment of the issue, and his (deservedly respectful) response to David Berlind about Free Software / Open Source Software.  O'Grady correctly (IMHO) establishes the notion that F/OSS has a huge impact on SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS offerings.  In part, it's because the vendors of proprietary softare, platforms and infrastructure have been happily minting money based on a classic computing and product economy (vs. a service economy).  In part, it's because the F/OSS arguments really DO hold for technologies in which there exist reasonably well defined reference implementations ... operating systems, web servers, application platforms, data base management systems ... that lend themselves to standardized interfaces or by virtue of market dominance (like MSFT's Exchange) have become a de facto standard. 

I'd recommend watching the likely exchange between (and around) O'Grady and Berlind.   It's likely to be well worth the attention.

tecosystems » Is the Cloud Stupid?

All of which begs the question of whether or not cloud computing is a clear and present danger to either or both of the free software or open source movements. From his comments, it seems reasonable to deduce that Stallman does so regard it. As does one of the smarter journalists you’ll meet: one David Berlind.

Personally, I disagree. To quote Austin Milbarge, for once I am in complete agreement with my partner: far from marginalizing F/OSS, the cloud may well prove to be its most significant benefactor.

Consider, for a moment, that the F/OSS’s impact on the PC has been, desktop marketshare-wise, neglible. And that while successful in the server market, it is hardly dominant. Yet in the cloud, F/OSS is at present the rule, rather than the exception.

Amazon? Built on Xen, hosting only (to date) open source operating systems (Linux and, in alpha, OpenSolaris). Google App Engine? Only the folks in Moutain View what, precisely, it’s composed of, but there’s little question that the foundation is open source. The language (Python) and the primary framework (Django), meanwhile, are as well. And so on. Some of the success of F/OSS within the cloud is doubtless attributable to the specific players. By Ray Ozzie’s own admission, Amazon - a shop with deep experience in open source technologies - simply took the cloud market far more seriously than did Microsoft. If the roles were to be reversed, the makeup of the cloud might look radically different.

But the foundational role that F/OSS plays within the cloud ecosystem cannot be entirely attributed to the players. Licensing - or the lack thereof - played its part, as did the technology itself. For many would-be cloud providers, F/OSS is simply the best tool for the job.

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