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When you’re building your own cloud, your first decision might well be the most important one: what kind of software do you use to set it up? One of the choices that seems inevitable is whether to go open source or closed source.
Is open source software more innovative? Is it always free? What are the pros of official software? Do you want an accessible source code or do you just want enough end user freedom?
Open source software is distributed over the Internet with its source code visible for anyone who wants to improve or copy it. It can be used to build all kinds of applications, some of them cloud based, with multiple support forums where the developers and users can discuss possibilities and issues – usually free of charge. In terms of hardware and system requirements, open source software can be tailored for a particular operating system, and most people using various kinds of laptops and desktops will have no problem using it. Corporate companies spend a lot of time, effort, and money, on the development of their software, to make sure it is of perfect quality and accessible to all potential users – whether they’re using a relatively low spec mobile computing unit, a strong all in one computer, or a highly responsive Ultrabook.
To start with one common misunderstanding: open source is not necessarily free, but easier to copy than proprietary software and thus easier to distribute free of charge. Also, official software doesn’t always limit your freedom as an end user. Actually, the two forms of software – open source and closed source – can go very well together when combined to support each other, and that type of thing seems to be happening more and more. So, why should there still be a divide between open source and closed source in the computing world?
The main proprietary player in the field of server software used to be VMware. Already around before the concept of cloud computing had become mainstream, they were the designated company to venture into cloud management, and did so successfully. Now, however, the most well-known way to set up a cloud is probably by using OpenStack. OpenStack is an open source cloud operating system that provides computer users with a dashboard to control the resources necessary for storage, processing, and networking in the cloud. There is also proprietary open stack software available to support this with a cloud-building foundation and improve known performance issues. VMware responded to this development in a very controversial way: by becoming a member of the OpenStack community.
Another collaboration between open and closed source software exists between Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Eucalyptus systems. Open source Eucalyptus aims for flexibility in private computer networks, while AWS supports its processing power. AWS has been around for ten years now, and has always focused more on web developers than end users – so your typical laptop user wouldn’t have been the target audience. This might be a reason that its name only started appearing widely in blogs and news articles after its partnering with Eucalyptus.
There are many other examples of open source cloud software that come up in a Google search, like CloudStack, which has the same origins as OpenStack and the same focus on workload portability. Right now, it doesn’t have the same technical backing, but it’s still used by a fair few service providers. Surprisingly, it seems a lot harder to find software that is completely proprietary. Perhaps this has something to do with something inherent to both open source and the cloud: sharing. But closed source has its own advantages – for example, an often superior standard of security, along with dedicated support teams for you and your company or organisation – and closed source can provide the same end user freedom.
Open source software is only definitely worth it if that’s what you want: access to the source code. If you’re only attracted by the idea that it’s free, you should remember that the main cost of cloud computing is in the infrastructure, not in the setup. But with today’s collaboration, you probably don’t even have to make this choice, but get the best of both instead.