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When to embrace, or walk away from, open source options

Open source cloud allows enterprises to dodge software payments and vendor lock-in. But some organizations are better off walking away.

Open source cloud computing sounds great on paper, enabling services to be designed around specific needs and eliminating...

software payments. But, for some organizations, the best approach to open source cloud may be avoidance. Despite its perks, the open source pros don't always outweigh the cons.

IT shops with limited internal technology support may want to forgo some, or even all, of the open source benefits in exchange for support and accountability. Server vendors offer their own customized cloud software platforms using open source tools, while bundling in full support.

It's also possible to purchase cloud software from vendors. Some cloud vendors have dual-license offerings that allow users to purchase a version of the software, while keeping another version available as open source. VMware, the most popular data center virtualization software provider, has a commercial cloud software platform, vCloud Air, designed for hybrid cloud.

Taking advantage of open source in the cloud

What's the best approach if you want to exploit open source software in your cloud? If your servers are purchased primarily from a single vendor, it probably makes sense to get cloud platform software and support from that vendor. If you are working with a vendor such as VMware for server virtualization or get your Linux and open source tools from Red Hat, it's easiest to work with them for cloud as well.

Large companies with many data centers, servers and vendors may want to consider self-support for open source cloud tools. Alternatively, select an integrator to blend cloud software across any set of servers to keep server purchases as competitive as possible. The integrator option is particularly attractive for industries like financial services and healthcare, as specialists can be considerably valuable when integrating applications and server platforms in addition to cloud software.

Your plans are also important. Open source software will surely form the basis for cloud, as Linux has become a de facto operating system. But not all applications for Linux are open source, nor are all systems tools. Before making your final choice, know where your own cloud plans will take you, along with the direction of your open source cloud software providers.

About the author:
Tom Nolle is president of
CIMI Corp., a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecommunications and data communications since 1982.

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This was last published in March 2015

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Does open source cloud computing work for your organization?
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We've been working with AWS, and so far, their offering has been effective and, for the most part, reasonably priced. we do have to monitor to make sure that stale machines are turned off or released, but that's not too big a deal with a weekly audit.
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Most companies these days have open-source and commercial versions of their software, not just RedHat (mentioned in the article). Docker, CoreOS, Hashicorp, Mirantis, ElasticSearch, and many, many others. 
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We are an organization of over 1,000 technically-inclined freelance professionals. We rely heavily on our ability to communicate from within the cloud. This technological advancement is primitive to our business's mission. We strive to provide networking possibilities for freelancers of all kinds, and migrating to a cloud computing system under open source code gives the greatest flexibility and stability in an infrastructure. It's a big step, but it makes a big change, too.
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