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The rising tide of open source cloud platforms

Because of the innovation of active communities, the open source movement is gaining momentum in many market segments. Already well-established in the desktop OS space, open source is now becoming a significant force in the area of cloud computing. The open source

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movement has come a long way, and the cloud appears to be the latest market poised to feel its impact.

The first wave in the open source ocean

Several years ago, various startups began developing the first wave of open source cloud platforms, many of which are based on public cloud's Amazon Web Services (AWS). Let's look at some major open source cloud options.

Founded in 2007 as a research project at the University of California, Eucalyptus Systems has delivered cloud technologies since 2009. The Eucalyptus Cloud platform pools virtualized IT infrastructure to create cloud resources for compute, network and storage.

Backed by venture capital, Chris Pinkham and Willem van Biljon, who were members of Amazon's cloud team, founded Nimbula Inc. in 2009, which has become another well-known member of the open source cloud market. The company developed a cloud OS that combined the scalability and operational efficiencies of the public cloud with the control, security and trust of enterprise data centers.

Such approaches serve certain types of companies well.

"AWS open source solutions do a good job of meeting the need of very small businesses … but most companies are looking for more sophisticated solutions for their private clouds," said Jay Lyman, senior analyst in the Enterprise Software group at 451 Research. A couple of alternatives have emerged.

CloudPlatform makes an open source cloud splash

In July 2011, Citrix Systems Inc. purchased Cloud.com, which touted a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) designed to help enterprises and cloud providers deploy and manage scalable, secure and open cloud services. Eventually, Citrix moved control of the CloudPlatform APIs to the Apache Foundation, under version 2.0 of the Apache license.

AWS open source solutions do a good job of meeting the need of very small businesses … but most companies are looking for more sophisticated solutions for their private clouds.

Jay Lyman, senior analyst in the Enterprise Software group, 451 Research

CloudPlatform has made its way into different companies, with different models. ISWest Inc., a regional Internet service provider (ISP) near Los Angeles, started by delivering dial-up Internet services in 1996, but evolved to offer a variety of network services, as well as ancillary application solutions, such as email hosting.

In October 2010, ISWest wanted to provide private network services. The company evaluated a range of cloud solutions, including CloudPlatform, Eucalyptus, Enomaly (a traditional proprietary cloud stack solution) and OpenNebula.

ISWest chose CloudPlatform for a couple of reasons. "Most of the cloud options focused on the compute layers first and the network layer second," explained Clayton Weise, director of engineering at ISWest. "CloudPlatform did a better job of supporting a variety of network options, which was what we were most interested in." CloudPlatform also supports multiple hypervisors, including KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine), Citrix's XenServer and VMware Inc.'s vSphere.

The ISP introduced the technology in July 2011 and has reaped several benefits. By making the change, ISWest garnered greater density on its computing infrastructure and increased its revenue per square foot in the data center. Previously, an average colocation client represented about $1,200 to $1,800 per rack in monthly revenue, but now, the average cloud rack generates $90,000 to $120,000 each month.

As a result, profit margins increased from an average of 35% to an average of more than 85%. The return on investment on ISWest's hardware purchases went from 12 months to less than two months. In addition, the firm's services are more attractive to customers because costs have been reduced by as much as 20%.

The OpenStack tidal pool grows

Since its formation in 2010, the OpenStack project continues to gain traction among businesses. One OpenStack consumer, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Inkiru Inc., uses the open source cloud platform with its a real-time marketing analytics platform. Its product enables firms to evaluate new customer activations, improve targeting and conversions, optimize email campaigns, reduce chargeback, and increase approvals.

Inkiru initially relied on AWS to support its business, but needed a more enterprise-ready system as financial services suppliers showed interest in its service.

"Financial services customers needed single-tenant servers that would pass strict security audits," explained Vijay Raghavendra, chief technology officer at Inkiru. While dedicated machines sufficed for production environments, Inkiru wanted to use the cloud as the company's data scientists built their real-time predictive models and transferred completed systems to AWS or to the single-tenant cloud infrastructure.

The firm examined various cloud offerings, including CloudPlatform and a Rackspace private cloud powered by OpenStack. In November 2012, Inkiru opted for Rackspace for a couple of reasons. First, the system ran on any hardware configuration. Second, it enabled building secure sandboxes and segmenting customers' systems, which was a big plus for data security. Since November, Inkiru has worked with a leading financial services organization to develop marketing analytics products.

Feeling the sting of open source cloud

As the open source market has evolved, things have changed. These technologies have long been viewed as low-cost, and in many cases, free. However, with the recent development of commercial open source products, the pricing gap has closed. "An open source system often costs as much as a proprietary product," said Gary Chen, research manager for IDC's Cloud and Virtualization System Software.

Open source technologies have long posed support issues, but that limitation has faded away recently. "Companies like Red Hat and others offer support that is as good as that found with commercial solutions," 451 Research's Lyman said.

One significant difference between open source and proprietary products is that customers are expected to tinker with the software to make it work. "Since we deliver IT-based solutions, we have a culture where our programmers are comfortable digging into source code and making it work for us," Inkiru's Raghavendra said. "But if a business doesn't have the culture, it may find using an open source system cumbersome."

About the author
Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance writer who specializes in cloud computing issues. He is based in Sudbury, Mass., and can be reached at paulkorzen@aol.com.

This was first published in April 2013

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