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The cloud consumes technology differently. It needs scalable, flexible commodity hardware and software. Only open source can feed the data centers of tomorrow

We’ve become familiar with the dictum by original Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen that “software is eating the world”. It is true, but the reality is more nuanced than that.

We currently create, process and consume amounts of data that were unimaginable a generation ago, and we must be able to produce hardware of quality and in quantity to keep pace. Software is indeed chewing up the ability of hardware to deal with it – the IT systems of the world currently process several zettabytes (ie, several million petabytes) of data annually, and projected growth rates are 26 to 28 percent per year (according to research by Cisco), thereby doubling the amount of data every two or three years.

open source tin can right

Source: Chris Perrins / DCD

Invite the world

No single company can keep up with that and, because every part of the system is interconnected with the others, the only way to meet the demands of the cloud is to distribute the workload, invite the world to help, and keep the doors open. In other words, open source has become, quite simply, the only viable approach to webscale and cloud technology.

In the 20 years since it was created, the Linux OS has become the most widely used software in the world, with customized distributions cropping up in embedded processors for everything, including networked devices.

Amazon doesn’t share much about its technology, but it is well known that Amazon Web Services (AWS) – the biggest public cloud service in the world – is running on millions of servers, each running Amazon’s own version of Linux. How else could it scale as it does for the prices it charges?

Outside of Amazon, OpenStack has become the leading public cloud platform, and that is an open-source project. Big Data is revolutionizing the handling of information, allowing insights to be extracted from giant data sets – and the leading offerings are based on the Hadoop open-source platform, which emerged from efforts by Google and Yahoo to handle floods of information on commodity hardware. Because Hadoop is open source, managed by the Apache Foundation, that power is now available to anyone.

Open source reached the hardware level in a big way in 2011, when Facebook shared its server designs and launched the Open Compute Project, which is now destroying vendor lock-in and sucking waste out of hardware, including racks and network switches.

Open technology is vital “above the rack and below the stack”. So it’s not software that’s eating the world: it’s open source.

Open source reached the hardware level in a big way in 2011, when Facebook launched the Open Compute Project,

Open-source technology is licensed in such a way that others can get involved, and the players each adopt the best open-source license for their purposes: the Gnu General Public License GPL) version 2 is a favorite with “purists” because it requires developers to share their modifications with the community.

By contrast, the Apache license allows vendors the tempting opportunity to extend the software with code they can keep to themselves.

open source tin can left

Source: Chris Perrins / DCD

Code is currency

“In open source, code is currency, and the medium in which you earn respect,” says Cole Crawford, CEO of Vapor IO. He should know: he was there at the formation of OpenStack and led the Open Compute Project before setting up to create an open-source means to manage data center hardware at Vapor IO.

That company is just one example of a valuable open-source effort. All the associations and organizations mentioned here are doing the grinding, daily work that keeps the data flowing, and the biggest companies are now betting on open technology.

Whether you’re modeling a complex scientific problem, collecting and analyzing data from a new industrial manufacturing plant, or just watching some stuff on YouTube, you’ll be glad that these organizations and companies exist, and are focused on nothing but open.

This article appeared in the April issue of DatacenterDynamics magazine

Open source at CeBIT

Open source was at the fore of the giant European tech show, CeBIT in Hanover, in Aprilwrites Roger Strukhoff. I moderated a panel which, along with Frank Weyns of Rackspace, featured Calista Redmond of IBM and the OpenPower Foundation, and Monty Taylor of the OpenStack Foundation. OpenPower and OpenStack are part of a constellation of open-source groups (see box).

I also met with Peter Ganten, who heads the German company Univention, as well as the Stuttgart-based Open Source Business Alliance.

Open technology has arrived in a big way in Germany, mirroring what’s going on in the US, Canada, the UK, several other major markets, and developing markets throughout the world.

Research I’ve been conducting over the past year from primary data sources suggests that countries as diverse as Denmark and Finland, China and the Philippines, Jordan, and Morocco and Senegal are regional leaders in using open source to improve their overall IT infrastructures.

Roger Strukhoff is executive director of the Tau Institute and open-source track chair for DCD Converged

Open source alliances

  • Apache Foundation
    Umbrella body supporting nearly 100 top-level open-source projects, notably Hadoop and related Big Data activity, several databases, web and Java-related technologies
  • Free Software Foundation
    A campaigning non-profit organization, aiming to promote computer user freedom and defend the rights of all free software users.
  • Linux Foundation
    Non-profit foundation sponsoring the work of Linux Torvalds and other Linux developers, dedicated to keeping Linux free, supported by hundreds of tech companies.
  • Open Compute Project
    Shares efficient designs for cloud infrastructure, with contributions in servers, network and many other areas. Launched by Facebook in 2011, it now has around 100 organizational and community members, and hundreds of active individual members. Recent announcements include expansion into telecoms hardware and the arrival of Google as a member.
  • Open Data Center Alliance
    An independent body working on standards for cloud computing. Founded in 2010, it is backed by Intel and includes large vendors such as BMW.
  • The OpenPower Foundation
    Customizes IBM Power microprocessors. Chips based on IBM’s designs can be made at any fab and mixed or integrated with any other products. Also shares firmware with its own github repository. Announced as a consortium in August 2013, now a foundation with 157 members.
  • Open Source Business Alliance
    The Open Source Business Alliance is the merger of European Linux user groups, based in Stuttgart, Germany.
  • Open Source Initiative
    Non-profit organization and standards body that maintains a list of software licenses that meet the open-source definition and promotes an understanding of those licenses.
  • OpenStack
    Open-source cloud platform with many components, including compute, networking, security, block storage, database and orchestration. Launched by NASA and Rackspace in 2010, now a foundation with 170 members and 30,000 community members. 

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