Mitigate Cloud Risk Through Open Source

The drumbeat of cloud computing has become so loud that no business manager can avoid its siren song of lower cost, greater business agility, and the perfect alignment of business and IT. Although much of cloud computing is based on open source technologies, namely Linux, it hasn’t been viewed as an open source phenomenon.

Cloud computing has proven easier said than done. Even before the recent Amazon cloud disaster when hundreds of Amazon Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2) customers lost access to their applications and data for most of a day or longer, technology vendors had been scrambling to make cloud computing easier to deploy and use.

Red Hat, the large open source Linux provider, is the latest to launch a series of cloud technologies that promise to mitigate the risk of deploying applications to the cloud.   IBM, HP, Microsoft, EMC, Dell and others have their own initiatives aimed at doing the same thing. The Red Hat initiatives, as you’d expect, make extensive use of open source tools and frameworks to simplify the development and deployment of cloud systems and reduce the risk involved.

In some ways cloud computing appears remarkably simple. Just take a SaaS application like Salesforce.com, which is delivered via the cloud. All you need is a browser, deployment can be fast and easy, and the costs are reasonable and predictable.

Things get more complicated, however, when you want to start mixing and matching various cloud services and SaaS applications. Or you want to combine private and public cloud capabilities in a private cloud, creating what amounts to a hybrid cloud, and then build and deploy some of your own applications along with the cloud components. Of course, you’ll want to integrate and manage it all as a single system for efficiency.

Well, that’s not so easy. It can be done but you have to overcome the understandable tendency of vendors to lock you into their particular way of doing things. You end up with a lot of piece parts that don’t necessarily work together, at least not without a lot of cobbling on your part. This is where open source can help.

Earlier this week, Red Hat took a major step in enabling organizations to simplify cloud development and deployment and reduce risk. It introduced a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering called OpenShift. It is aimed at open source developers and provides them with a flexible platform for developing cloud applications using a choice of development frameworks for Java, Python, PHP and Ruby, including Spring, Seam, Weld, CDI, Rails, Rack, Symfony, Zend Framework, Twisted, Django and Java EE. It is based on a cloud interoperability standard, Deltacloud, and it promises to end PaaS lock-in, allowing developers to choose not only the languages and frameworks they use but the cloud provider upon which their application will run.

By building on the Deltacloud cloud interoperability standard, OpenShift allows developers to run their applications on any supported Red Hat Certified Public Cloud Provider, eliminating the lock-in associated with first-generation PaaS vendors. In addition it brings the JBoss middleware services to the PaaS experience, such as the MongoDB services and other RHEL services.

At the same conference, Red Hat introduced CloudForms, a product for creating and managing IaaS for private and hybrid clouds. It allows users to create integrated clouds consisting of a variety of computing resources and still be portable across physical, virtual and cloud computing resources.  CloudForms addresses key problems encountered in first-generation cloud products: the cost and complexity of virtual server sprawl, compliance nightmares and security concerns.

One key benefit of CloudForms is the ability to create hybrid clouds using existing computing resources: virtual servers from different vendors, such as Red Hat and VMware; different cloud vendors, such as IBM and Amazon; and conventional in-house or hosted physical server, both racks and blades. This level of choice helps to eliminate lock-in and the need to undergo migration from physical to virtual servers in order to obtain the benefits of cloud.

Other vendors also have introduced new cloud initiatives recently. IBM, for example, demonstrated an enterprise cloud service delivery platform that it is piloting with key clients.  It promises to allow enterprise clients to select key characteristics of a public, private, and hybrid cloud to match to their workload requirements from simple Web infrastructure to complex business processes. These characteristics fall along five risk dimensions: security, performance/availability, technology platform, management/deployment, and payment/billing.

HP has joined with Red Hat in what is being called the Red Hat Cloud-HP Edition.  This is a private cloud design and reference architecture for IAAS and combines Red Hat Cloud solutions with HP’s CloudSystem, Cloud Maps and associated services.

Add to the above what Dell, Microsoft, EMC, and others are doing with initiatives to simplify and streamline business use of the cloud and it becomes clear that the vendors have gotten the message: Businesses want cloud computing that delivers what it promised—open, flexible, reliable, and efficient computing. It will take a few years to build it out, but it just got a big boost.

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