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Linux's position in cloud computing efforts

The role of Linux in cloud computing is becoming more clear as the technology advances. The open source platform beats its rivals in cost, and is an undisputed leader in the space. The Linux Foundation released a white paper, positioning Linux at the top of the list of cloud operating systems, and Red Hat has initiated their own efforts in cloud computing development. Interoperability is key in the cloud, a issue not unfamiliar to the Linux community.

Clouds are such big Linux news these days that, in the physical world, it would be raining by now. Or at least heavily overcast.

The latest development is a Linux Foundation's report on Linux and cloud computing released May 6, 2009, which states that Linux is the OS of choice for major cloud platforms now and in the future. The report follows just days after the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) formed a collaborative Open Cloud Standards Incubator to develop standard protocols to remove interoperability barriers. Ultimately, the DMTF's goal is to spur cloud adoption by making its workloads more portable and easier to manage. And, finally, Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat Inc. recently announced a virtual forum on open source cloud computing July 22 to address interoperability problems and ways to solve them.

Open source software is the natural infrastructure for clouds because it maximizes interoperability and transparency with open APIs to prevent vendor lock-in

"Everybody agrees on the excitement and promise of the cloud," said Mike Evans, Red Hat's vice president of corporate development. Other intensive computing solutions like grids or utility computing have failed to gain enough traction to win a broad market share, Evans said. But virtualization changes the game because you can start or stop virtual instances on the cloud with no manual intervention, which is not only more cost effective, but also more secure because you can wall off your data in a virtual container, he said.

Open source software is the natural infrastructure for clouds because it maximizes interoperability and transparency with open application programming interfaces (APIs) to prevent vendor lock-in, Evans added. In contrast, clouds built on proprietary code can have hidden APIs that prevent customers from switching workloads to other providers or back and forth to internal clouds, he said.

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In fact, Evans said, nearly all the major cloud providers except Microsoft already run primarily on open source, a claim buttressed in the Linux Foundation report which listed 21 Linux-based clouds, including three Amazon clouds, Google Apps, IBM's Blue Cloud, VMware's vCloud and Dell's Cloud Computing Solutions, among others.

The Linux Foundation report said cloud computing is growing because data center costs are escalating and improvements in virtualization, distributed computing and IT management make cloud computing a more feasible option. Linux, in turn, was an obvious choice for cloud computing from the get-go because of its open source, modular architecture, its low cost and its scalability, the report said.

"The fact is that Linux is already the de facto operating system of choice for cloud computing," and will be the foundation of cloud platforms going forward, concluded the report.

Red Hat is currently in discussions and/or actively working with more than 50 large customers on construction of private, corporate clouds using Red Hat products including high-speed messaging and grid technologies and its JBoss middleware, Evans said. After customers are comfortable with their own clouds, the natural progression is enabling them to move spillover workloads to a public cloud and, ultimately, to transfer them back and forth as needed, creating a hybrid cloud, he said. That's when interoperability and transparency really start to matter, he added.

After customers are comfortable with their own clouds, the natural progression is enabling them to move spillover workloads to a public cloud...

Stephen O'Grady, an analyst with Seattle, WA-based Redmonk, said clouds are still very much in the early adopter stage, especially in large data centers. Although a McKinsey & Co. report on cloud computing questioned the financial advantages of the technology, O'Grady said the latter assumes a complete conversion from bricks and mortar to cloud, which is unrealistic, and, in any case, overlooks the convenience of bypassing procurement paperwork and adding compute power with a credit card.

O'Grady, who backs up his personal files and music onto the Amazon S3 storage server, said the potential reach of cloud computing extends beyond other advanced technologies like grid and HPC because it's applicable up and down the software stack and can be useful even to small business.

A disadvantage to cloud computing is loss of control when something goes wrong and potentially career-ending consequences for a high-profile failure, O'Grady said. In addition, customers may lose the option of choosing the hardware, OS and other technologies on the cloud, which is why the DMTF's efforts to boost interoperability are a very positive step, he said. The only drawback, to date, is that the DMTF's participating companies do not yet include many Web vendors, he said.

Although Linux is currently the cloud platform of choice, O'Grady did not rule out competition from proprietary vendors in the future. So far, however, the cloud phenomenon is definitely speeding Linux adoption, he said.

"If we assume that the majority of the cloud deployments run on Linux and the cloud is incredibly popular, then it logically follows that the cloud is good for Linux," O'Grady said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email  Pam Derringer, News Contributor .

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