Open source platform as a service (PaaS) platforms are one of the most exciting topics in the software industry nowadays. Following the $212M acquisition of Heroku by Salesforce.com, we’ve seen how in a matter of months, platforms like dotCloud of VMWare’s Cloud Foundry have emerged with complete PaaS suites based on popular open source technologies.
The value proposition behind this type of PaaS offer is very simple. These platforms will enable the foundation to host, manage, provision and scale solutions based on some of the most renowned open source technologies such as Ruby on Rails, Hadoop, MySQL among dozens of others.
When we start exploring these technologies in detail, we will quickly realize that they could have a profound impact in the software industry that changes the economics and cultural aspects of the open source model.
For the last 20 something years, open source technologies have been fighting an uphill battle to gain a wide adoption within traditional business that favors commercial software alternatives. Lack of support options, poor documentation or vendor commitment are some of the reasons (or prejudices J ) that are often seen as limitations of open source technology stacks. Those years of anti open source mindsets have had a deep influence in the software markets. If you think about it, other than JBoss, MySQL or SpringSource, we can’t cite many other big exits of open source technology vendors. While it is true that the number of exists or acquisitions is not a direct in direct correlation to the viability of a business model it’s a pretty good indicator of the health and stability of a specific market segment.
Can open source PaaS platforms change this? I definitely think so. Let me try to explain.
Does it matter if it is open source when somebody can provision, host, manage, and scale it for you?
I think the open source PaaS model is removing a lot of the friction that companies experience when adopting open source technology stacks. Think about it, would you still be concerned of using Ruby or MySQL if Heroku, VMWare or dotCloud provisions, hosts, manages and scales the technology for you in a very elastic, self-healing infrastructure?
We have to think about open source PaaS beyond the technology landscape and see it as a phenomenon that can change the economic dynamics of the open source model. To put it in very simple terms, open source PaaS platforms have the opportunity to erase a lot of the non-technical advantages that, sometimes, were attributed to commercial software compared to open source alternatives.
The emergence of open source cloud platforms will force commercial software vendors such as Microsoft or IBM to focus more on innovations of the cloud stacks and less on the advantages of their delivery model. At the same time, commercial software vendors will now have to compete with very complete technology stacks that group a large variety of open source technologies. For instance, I think developers are going to find themselves evaluating complete cloud fabrics like Windows Azure vs. Cloud Foundry, instead of individual technologies SQL Server vs. MySQL.
I think open source PaaS should be a primary option for companies when considering embracing cloud computing. Unfortunately, I get the feeling that it will take some time for organizations to get rid of the same anti open source prejudices that were common when evaluating on-premise open source technologies. In any case, we have to trust the influence that software communities can have in the industry.
Do open source communities need to change?
I don’t think open source communities will change drastically in this cloud computing era but I do believe we need to start considering open source PaaS platforms on the roadmap of the different open source technologies. For instance, I believe open source communities should be very influential regarding which features should be enabled on the different open source cloud platforms and, at the same time, guide the path of the technology in a way that won’t harm the platforms that are enabling those technologies in a cloud environment.
I believe we will have multiple winners. Microsoft has a head start and a fantastic platform with Windows Azure. I believe VMWare’s Cloud Foundry and Salesforce.com’s Heroku can leverage their strong presence in the virtualization and business software aspects to grow its adoption.
In any case, I believe we have interesting times ahead of us.