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Whose cloud is the open-sourciest... Who cares?

Money talks, a Twitter meme walks

Open ... and Shut Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, the thought police are back. For years, the open source community was torn apart by fractious debates over what "open" meant and who was open enough. As we've moved beyond name calling to focus on getting work done, the same old debate has shifted to cloud computing, with a new crop of pundits and evangelists wrangling over who is the cloudiest of them all.

Don't we have anything better to do?

For some, the answer may be "No." Flexiant founder, Tony Lucas, for example, took to the stage at Structure this week and denounced "cloud washing" and demanded that it be stopped. This follows Appirio calling out cloud washing's biggest offenders a year ago, and constant chatter on Twitter about the offense.

Maybe they're right. Maybe it is a horrible crime against humanity to pretend at a "cloudiness" that one's product doesn't have.

But not content to pontificate on how serious competitors are about the cloud, some have turned the debate into a well-worn open source debate: just how open are open cloud vendors? OpenNebula's founder argues that to be a truly open cloud, that cloud must be open source. He goes on to claim moral high ground, stating that OpenNebula its contributors are superior to those of other projects, as "they are not developers who have been hired by a vendor."

It's unclear how this somehow makes OpenNebula superior, given that all of the major open-source projects, including Linux, Firefox, and more, are all heavily populated with developers paid by vendors to contribute to these particular projects.

Regardless, I'd argue that the quest for openness in clouds will be as unhelpful as it was in open-source software. It turns out that technology buyers and users don't need a pundit to evaluate openness for them. It's also clear that their adoption criteria are much more sophisticated than "open vs. closed."

For example, it's not at all clear that an open cloud must be open source. Or that source code is the most important measure of openness in cloud computing.

Marten Mickos, chief executive officer of Eucalyptus Systems, which sells services around its open-source hybrid cloud solution, asserts that "clouds are all about APIs," and that "common APIs give apps freedom to run anywhere." That freedom may be assisted by open source, but it's really the API that ensures the kind of freedom about which end-users care most.

Mickos elucidates this point in an interview with the Linux Foundation:

The purpose of a compute cloud is to provide freedom to application workloads: freedom to scale elastically, freedom to run on public or private infrastructures, and generally freedom from the underlying hardware.

But it's not exclusively about open APIs. In Mickos' view, openness is about open APIs, open source, and open data. One leg of the stool is not enough.

Again, end users are smart enough to navigate these openness debates. And while I'm sure cloud users care about avoiding lock-in, the real driver for adoption is getting work done, which includes the flexibility and cost savings that naturally follow open source and open APIs. This is why I care much more about the fact that Eucalyptus enables 25,000 cloud starts each year (warning: PDF); that 500 CloudStack-based clouds spin up each month; and that HP and Rackspace run OpenStack in serious production.

This is the real world of cloud computing. It's not a debate you can follow on Twitter. It's real adoption by real companies spending real money. Perhaps it's not as fun as name-calling over who is the most open or the cloudiest. But it's a lot more informative. ®

Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Nodeable, offering systems management for managing and analysing cloud-based data. He was formerly SVP of biz dev at HTML5 start-up Strobe and chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfresco's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears three times a week on The Register.

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