The central promise of open source software has always been to release users from vendor lock-in. With open source software, users were no longer beholden to a single vendor.
But, as the IT world moves deeper into cloud computing, also known as software-as-a-service, open source software is no longer a guarantee that customers are protected from vendor lock-in. Even if the software being used to host the cloud service is open source it isn’t a guarantee of freedom.
What is now becoming increasingly important are open standards and open APIs (application programming interfaces). These two are far more important than open source software in helping customers avoid unintended lock-in.
InfoWorld’s Savio Rodrigues argues that VMForce, VMWare’s recent cloud announcement is a good example of how essentially open source software products can be used to create a cloud environment that is proprietary. “In essence, VMForce offers a cloud platform with a set of proprietary APIs and an open source runtime platform. As such, VMForce is a great test of whether open source is enough to minimize vendor lock-in in the cloud. The blunt answer is no, it is not.”
Canonical’s Matt Asay has called cloud computing the “Hotel California of technology“.
“Even for companies, like Google, that articulate open-data policies, the cloud is still largely a one-way road into Web services, with closed data networks making it difficult to impossible to move data into competing services,” says Asay.
It is the data formats and the walled gardens that sit within the cloud environments that will become the biggest challenge to customers looking to avoid vendor lock-in. And it affects home users as much as it does enterprise customers and governments – it’s hard enough as an individual to close a Facebook account, imagine trying to move that data to another service?
Unlike a home user, however, being locked into a single platform or provider as a business or government is more than an irritation. It could be a costly exercise that could do untold damage to a business. And once a business or government goes down the proprietary path the way back can be a long, hard fight.
The answer is open standards and open APIs. It’s not good enough for the cloud infrastructure to be open source. If the data formats and interfaces are locked into a single vendor then the nett effect is that users are buying into a proprietary cloud where they hand over control to a third party.
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