Clouds bump up against open-source idealism

A jurisdictional dispute has broken out over Vert.x, an open-source application framework. The protagonists have pledged cooperation, in the open-source spirit.

By TheStreet Staff Jan 11, 2013 7:11PM

Cloud computing © -Oxford-/E+/Getty ImagesBy Dana Blackenhorn, TheStreetTheStreet logo

 

The cloud is the first computing revolution created in the era of open-source.

 

Most of cloud computing runs on open source, though there are prominent exceptions, such as  Amazon.com's (AMZN) proprietary Application Program Interface used for its EC2 cloud, and VMware's (VMW) vSphere virtualization system.


"Big data" system Hadoop is an open source tool. And OpenStack, the cloud infrastructure originally developed through NASA then run as open source by Rackspace Hosting (RAX) is now managed by an independent OpenStack Foundation.

 

Open source idealism is infused throughout the cloud-computing industry. This makes profit harder to come by, as the benefits of open-source flow naturally to users rather than bankers or salesmen.


It means that if you're in the cloud-computing business, you need to tread lightly, keeping your knife in your boot rather than on your belt. 


Community trumps commerce

VMware and Red Hat (RHT) are now learning this the hard way as they battle over an open source project called Vert.x.

 

Vert.x was first developed through a VMware employee named Tim Fox; VMware acted as its corporate "sponsor," paying Lee for following his passion. Fox's software lets teams build cloud applications in a variety of computer languages, and Red Hat was quick to adopt it for its OpenShift cloud platform. 

 

It was when Red Hat recruited Fox from VMware that the trouble started. As ZDNet's Jack Clark explained, VMware lawyers demanded Fox give the company back control of the project, which Fox did.

 

The result was an explosion of concern at the Google Group supporting the project, with developers threatening to "fork" it so there might be two Vert.x versions, one for VMware and one for Red Hat.

 

But this would also mean developers having to reinvent the wheel, and the versions would, in time, become incompatible. The two companies quickly put out a joint statement promising to work things out through the Vert.x "community."

 

I have covered open-source since 2005, and this sort of thing happens often. When corporate agendas get in the way of community agendas, what's unique about open-source is the community tends to win.

 

Community resistance prevented Oracle (ORCL) from fully capitalizing on the "intellectual property" it acquired a few years ago when it bought Sun Microsystems and its Java open-source programming language, Open Office office suite and Solaris operating system.

 

Open Office was eventually spun into the Apache Foundation. Oracle was forced to back off its efforts to control Java, according to IDC analyst Al Hilwa, and even Open Solaris re-emerged with a new open-source community behind it, a process former Sun evangelist Simon Phipps outlined in InfoWorld.


Follow the money 

What investors want to know in this is -- where did the money go? It goes to people and companies using the software. It's going to those, like Google (GOOG), running cloud services, and it's going to companies like Facebook (FB) that are building services on top of clouds.

 

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst probably said it best when he characterized software as a wrench and standardized, open-source software tools as the nuts and bolts. The profit lies in using those tools to build the services defining the post-industrial revolution, a revolution that has only just begun.

 

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