Highlander is a great movie. But when it comes to the cloud, it's not a case of "There can be only one." At LinuxCon in San Diego this summer, that point was made over and over again.
"Great movie, bad representation of the cloud market,” said Peder Ulander, VP of product marketing for the Cloud Platforms group at Citrix, said in his keynote address. “One thing we’ve learned from Linux vendors: There’s plenty of room in the market for open solutions. From community distributions like Debian and Fedora to Red Hat, SUSE, and Ubuntu, to PostgreSQL, MySQL, or Apache HTTPD and Nginx. Multiple solutions can and do co-exist, and [they] even cooperate and compete simultaneously. There’s no reason that the cloud need be any different."
Looking at the cloud and its future, Ulander sees "lots of players at lots of layers in the cloud moving forward and it's through these communities that the cloud will evolve.">
He's not the only to see this vision in his crystal ball.
Randy Bias, the CTO and co-founder at CloudScaling, an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud vendor, sees open-source cloud developers such as Prometheus bringing fire down from the gods and disrupting the 21st century IT stack. Bias sees open-source cloud software components – from MapReduce to Hadoop, BigTable to Cassandra/HBase, and Google App Engine to Cloud Foundry – offering companies multiple ways to implement clouds.
True, this may lead to what Bias calls FrankenClouds: “part enterprise virtualization, part elastic infrastructure, and not enough of either." In the long run, though, Bias expects open clouds to reduce vendor lock-in while enabling businesses to build at scale as needed while providing control and flexibility.
So what is this "open cloud?" Scott Crenshaw, vice president of Red Hat's cloud business unit, says the open cloud has seven properties:
- Open source code
- A viable, independent community
- Based on open standards
- Unencumbered by patents and other intellectual property (IP) restrictions
- Lets you deploy to your choice of infrastructure
- Pluggable, extensible, and open application programming interface (API)
- Enables data portability across clouds
For the most part, the open-source cloud community agrees with this take on the open cloud. The one notable exception at LinuxCon was Sam Ramji, a former Microsoft executive, who's now the VP of strategy for ApiGee, a cloud API company. Ramji believes that you can have an open cloud with open-source software so long as the APIs are open and the data can be exported to other clouds.
However, Ulander sees this view as a mistake. The successful cloud companies of tomorrow must "Do your work in the open,” he asserts. “Citrix has not always been the most open of companies; we've learned from our mistakes."
Today, many companies simply call whatever they're doing "cloud computing" with no attention paid to the one true NIST cloud definition (PDF) or the open cloud. This has resulted in "cloud washing," a lame attempt to make an old product or service sound exciting by adding the word "cloud" to it.
Of course, we all know the result. Cloud computing is now often seen as boring. It's not. Cloud computing enables businesses to launch new services for a fraction of a cost of installing new servers and software.
This doesn't mean that cloud computing, in and of itself, open or not, is going to become exciting. Indeed, Ulander doesn't want it to become exciting.
“Once upon a time, Linux was 'exciting' in the sense that the kernel and distributions were constantly adding big new features that helped Linux become competitive with proprietary Unix and/or Microsoft Windows in the enterprise and consumer market,” Ulander says. “While Linux still adds features at an amazing pace, sometime in the mid–2000s, Linux became boring. And that's great. It meant that Linux was mainstream, quietly doing its work in the background without too much hassle. Linux conquered the data center. It conquered the top 500 list of supercomputers. Linux has become the core of the most-used smartphone operating system in the world." Therefore cloud vendors should "aspire to have an open cloud that is just as boring — and necessary — as Linux."
How can this be done? Ulander suggests, "We believe that open source means more than dropping code at random intervals. The work needs to be done in the open as well, so that we can benefit from the contributions of the entire community rather than [from] those behind the corporate firewall."
Ulander also thinks that, just we still see many different versions of Linux today, in the future we'll continue to see many different versions of the cloud.
"Being first to market is no guarantee of long-term success, or even survival. Technology favorites can be abandoned with amazing swiftness when better technology emerges or political problems make a project problematic,” he says. “Think about the Linux distributions that have been popular over the years. SLS Linux was the first Linux distro, but was quickly supplanted by Slackware because it was buggy and not updated frequently enough. Slackware, while still developed and used today, has been displaced from 'mainstream' use by Red Hat, SUSE, Debian, Ubuntu and others. At each turn, the distribution that met the needs of users best was the one that succeeded – not the distribution that had first-mover status."
Cloud computing is just getting started. It’s too early to declare one vendor, technology, or methodology the “best.” Ulander continues, "Many of the companies, projects and individuals in the market are in a race to the finish, staking claim to the market and celebrating victory. It is important to see where we are in this market. A hundred clouds, a thousand clouds, ten thousand clouds? We are just scratching the surface of where this technology is headed and where we are at this moment in time.” Few people have even started to understand the technology and what it means for them, he points out. “We might be no further along than when the first of the Linux distributions started in 1994. We have a long way to go in our journey to the cloud."
So where is the cloud taking us? Where will we be with the cloud in 2032? We don’t know. "Twenty years ago, we didn’t imagine that Linus’ baby would be all grown up and powering huge swaths of the Internet. We didn’t expect smartphones more powerful than the entire computing power of NASA’s moon missions."
Ulander concludes, "Linus never imagined his hobby project powering millions of DVRs and streaming systems, or that Linux would give life to Google, Facebook, Netflix, or power the majority of the top 500 supercomputers. It’s hard to imagine what systems in 10 years will look like, much less 20."
Future-predictions are hard, but, as Ulander points out, "Today, the open cloud is run on commodity x86 systems running on top of open source operating systems and hypervisors. Tomorrow? We might see a lot more ARM in the data center, as is being developed by companies like Calxeda. The one thing we do know is that the future of the cloud in 20 years is totally open."
And, with even proprietary companies such as VMware joining the OpenStack Foundation and Microsoft supporting Linux virtual machines on its Azure cloud platform, it's hard to argue with Ulander and the other LinuxCon cloud developers. They may disagree on some of the details, they may want their own open take on the cloud to be the first among equals, but when it comes to 2032 and the cloud there will not be only one cloud, but it will be open.
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