Open-source Clouds vs. Proprietary Clouds: The Truth Is Out

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Until fairly recently, cloud computing has been considered "bleeding-edge" technology, reserved for technology-focused companies and developers. We’re getting to the point now, though, where it’s being recognised by IT departments across all industries as a way to increase service flexibility and reduce in-house infrastructure and service costs.

As the cloud goes mainstream at last, all the major technology vendors are scrapping for market share. They have wasted no time building marketing strategies around their cloud products – explaining why their offerings are more robust, scalable and secure than the competition.

The reality, however, is that there are really only two choices when it comes to building your cloud. You can go with a proprietary solution, such as Microsoft Azure; or you can choose an open-source alternative, such as Ubuntu Cloud. In my view, the smart money is on open source – and here are just a few good reasons why:

(1) You can avoid vendor lock-in

: Proprietary cloud offerings use their own APIs, image formats and storage formats, which makes them totally incompatible with other private and public clouds. That means you’ll be stuck where you are – even if there’s a good business case for moving on.

By using de facto cloud standards, open-source clouds help you avoid this frustrating vendor lock-in. You can easily move workloads between private clouds when it makes economic sense, or choose to farm out workloads to public clouds such as Amazon EC2 or Rackspace.

(2) You get best-of-breed technology

: Proprietary vendors are great at blowing their own trumpets. However, no single company – regardless of its size or dominance – can release cloud products that compete with open-source alternatives on functionality.

This is because an enormous, worldwide community of commercial organisations and individuals feed into open-source cloud projects. Their time, skills and dedication mean you can get the best free software, which is engineered specifically for the cloud, regularly updated and fully supported.

(3) You can scale your environment without restrictions

: Proprietary cloud solutions all follow one key principle – use more, pay more. By contrast, the best open source solutions are free to download and configure, which means you can add 50, 100 or 500 machines to a private cloud, or spin up an unlimited number of guest instances on public infrastructure, with no increase in operating system costs.

(4) You can adapt your cloud environment to meet your specific needs

: With proprietary software, you get what the vendor wants to give you. If you want functionality that isn’t available, you just have to sit on your hands and hope it will come in the next release. With open-source clouds, it’s different. IT teams get to see and modify all the code, right down to the kernel – so you can build a cloud that supports the needs of your business.