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Open source may be your only ticket out of the cloud

Cloud computing provides the ultimate vendor lock-in...unless open source can keep it honest.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

Enterprise IT sometimes behaves like the group of teenagers I counsel on a weekly basis as part of my church responsibilities: "Damn the future, let's live for the present!"

Stephen O'Grady offers a pungent critique of this nearsighted tendency in enterprise IT, especially as it pertains to the cloud:

Very much like Apple on the consumer level, (commercial cloud providers) Google et al demand sacrifices in return for convenience. Perhaps--or make that likely--realizing that businesses will invariably sacrifice the future at the altar of the present. We'll give you the convenience and time to market now; just don't expect to leave later.

And it's hard to blame (enterprise IT) for that, honestly. They've got jobs to do and kids to feed, and their blind trust in the technology industry to police itself and not lock them in this time as they've been locked in so many times before is as Peanuts touching as it is naive. Whether Lucy will yank the football out from under them yet again depends, as far as I can tell, on open source.

Why open source? Because open source helps to keep vendors like Google and Amazon honest by offering open alternatives to closed clouds (e.g., Eucalyptus).

Also, it's very possible that cloud computing will be nudged open in important ways due to the furor raised over proprietary practices.

This isn't simply a matter of open-source advocates castigating companies for locking in customers. It's also a clever sales tactic that an increasing array of companies will use to win over customers leery of signing over their data to a proprietary cloud provider, seemingly once and for all.

As the cloud gains relevance, we'll see an increasing array of companies that deliver software as a service (SaaS), but provide an "eject" mechanism via open-source, on-premise offerings. SugarCRM does this now, and I think we'll begin to see this more and more often.

The reality is that the service will be compelling enough to keep customers from bolting. But offering the safety blanket is worthwhile, even if no one ever uses it (and, frankly, I doubt many will, because very few are capable or running their own cloud, and even fewer want to).

O'Grady concludes that "Whether open source takes a role front and center...remains to be seen, but is certain that it will--as it has to date--have a crucial role in shaping the cloud market to come." How significant that role is largely up to us.

Disclosure: I am an advisor to SugarCRM.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.