The Hostway Blog

The Rise of Open Source Cloud Infrastructure

There’s no denying the traction that the public cloud services market has gained in recent years. Gartner projects the global public cloud market as a whole will grow 18.5 percent to $131 billion this year. Of that market, the research company cites Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) as the fastest growing segment, ballooning 42.4 percent in 2012 to $6.1 billion. The IaaS segment is expected to grow 47.3 percent to $9 billion in 2013.

One particular portion of that market quickly gaining popularity is open source public cloud infrastructure – wherein community-driven software based on open standards provides the foundation upon which third-party vendors build servers, networks and storage systems that easily scale, allowing you to deploy virtualized servers and virtual machines. Open source clouds enable users to control infrastructure on a variety of clouds in their own native programming language, reducing the amount of time spent learning how to communicate with different cloud APIs.

Because open source technology is community-driven and any programmer can contribute, users can help each other when problems arise. With open source, businesses also don’t need to worry about being locked in with a vendor. Furthermore, the software is constantly being updated by a community of developers, whereas on the proprietary side, software is updated by a small pool of knowledgeable programmers who just simply can’t produce updates at the same speed. In this light, businesses utilizing open source cloud infrastructure stay on the cutting edge at all times – adopting stable versions of software. In addition, open source cloud infrastructure facilitates the creation of custom clouds and the innovation of new cloud products, resulting in improved clouds based on better user-supplier collaboration.

With those benefits in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, according to Zenoss’ “State of the Open Source Cloud” survey released in October 2012, 17 percent of enterprises reported that they were already using an open source cloud, and 57 percent of respondents indicated they had plans to do so in the future, with 67 percent of that group saying they expect to do so within two years.

That adoption rate could be underestimated due to the financial explosion occurring in the aggregate market. But many decision-makers remain concerned about security risks associated with open source IaaS. According to Zenoss, 30 percent of those surveyed listed security as the primary reason open source IaaS deployment was not implemented. Some might think the underlying cloud software is insecure simply because it is open-source, which means multiple coders had a hand in creating it, and there could be known vulnerabilities.  Since open source is centered around a strong community, these coders create the software and share their code with one another, along with the list of known vulnerabilities and bugs. Malicious hackers could then get a hold of such vulnerabilities and exploit them.

Some opponents of open-source public clouds argue that critical security updates from the collaborative community happen slower than they should. Others argue that open source provides an incomplete product, something that is always open to reconfiguration.

Still, open source IaaS can offer some security advantages. Since there’s no vendor lock-in, companies don’t have to worry about vendors suddenly deciding to change security controls, something that can easily happen on a proprietary level. Instead of having no choice but to accept new protocols, an open source solution gives companies the freedom to do as they please. And because source code is available, companies are able to augment open source material as they wish.

The debate between the public and the private cloud is ongoing, as is the debate between open source and proprietary. According to the 2013 “State of the Cloud” survey, 64 percent of respondents plan to utilize the private cloud in some form, with 41 percent of those respondents choosing to select only open source private clouds and 29 percent going for a split solution.

As more companies and programmers join the open source community, it is reasonable to conclude that the demand for versatile open source infrastructure will continue to increase.