'Free' may do more for cloud than VMware, Microsoft or Amazon ever did

Open source cloud code makes it possible to get foggy without big costs.

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For technology that's supposed to make all other types of technology merge invisibly into one big mass of techno-mash, cloud computing has a lot of interoperability problems.

PAAS services like Azure are easy to use to launch single apps, but you can't change anything later; IAAS lets you change everything, but there's a data-center-sized learning curve before you can do much.

You can't move apps from one to another even if the systems you're using share the same acronym. Once you get into a cloud, you, or at least your applications, are stuck.

Maybe not for long, though, depending on how quickly the market crumbles before the power of free.

Last month the open-source development organization set up by managed-hoster Rackspace released the first open-source version of the APACHE software stack and formerly proprietary code Rackspace uses to run its own PAAS and IAAS cloud services.

Rather than poof out into open space and be ignored, as not nearly enough me-too cloud-technology announcements are, OpenStack started attracting attention, and not just from open-source geeks looking for free software.

"We're seeing a lot of service providers, telcos, smaller hosters who don't want to pay what it costs to run [a cloud service] on VMware, and a lot of large enterprises," according to Lew Moorman, president of the cloud service and chief strategy officer at Rackspace. "Development has also accelerated just unbelievably. Microsoft ponied up the money to add support for Hyper-V; we didn't have to do that. So customers have that much more choice in what components they want in their own cloud."

Free is famous for not being a sustainable business model, which is one reason Larry Ellison is clashing with open-source Java developers.

But Oracle sells software for a living; Rackspace runs software for a living.

"Even people running it internally are going to want to federate their cloud infrastructures, so we're likely to see more business there," Moorman said.

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