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Sam Ramji: Cloud makes open source 'inevitable' for Microsoft, others

Julie Bort | Oct. 11, 2011
While many free software advocates warn that the cloud could kill open source, because users won't have access to the source code, Sam Ramji disagrees. He says that work is going on now to eliminate the legal liabilities of contributing to open source.

Still, Microsoft as well as Oracle, Apple and others aren't fully behaving like they've seen the open source light, particularly in regard to Android. Microsoft is busy signing up as many Android device makers into patent protection licensing schemes as it can. The latest count on that is eight, and Microsoft is suing Barnes & Noble over its Android Nook. Apple is trying to keep Samsung from shipping its Galaxy Tab in Europe and elsewhere. Oracle is suing Google over its alleged use of Java in Android.

Ramji admits that open source progress at his alma mater, Microsoft, isn't complete. "In markets that are really challenging like embedded devices, where the company is not seeing the kind of success it would like to, it's falling on behaviors that we're seeing from Apple and others and using patents to salt the earth," he says.

BACKGROUND: Microsoft: 'We love open source'

Ramji, however, is putting his efforts where his optimism is. He hopes that the Open Cloud Initiative will be to open cloud computing what the OSI is to open source software. He says a new group was needed because the OCI is technology agnostic.

Even if the likes of Microsoft and Apple were to become avid users and contributors of open source for their clouds, they could still leave out the user -- the constituent that open source wants to protect, at least as envisioned by Free Software Foundation Founder Richard Stallman. This is what the OCI hopes to correct.

"If you are looking for freedoms in software, the way that we defined it in the source code era was the open source definition [by] the Open Source Initiative," Ramji says. But in the cloud era there is no definition of what makes an "open cloud," he says. While most of the other consortiums are concerned with getting others to adopt their technology (Rackspace's CloudStack, Red Hat's DeltaCloud, etc.), the OCI is concerned with validating that a cloud is "open" for its users. A cloud may be deemed "open" even if it doesn't use open source software.

So far the OCI has come up with two basic principles: "There is no barrier to entry or exit and there's no discrimination for who can use the service," Ramji says. He likens it to a consumer safety organization which will issue a rating or stamp of approval to help users "be aware of what their rights are" when choosing a cloud provider.

"If you put in 5 terabytes of data into a service, and you can get it out, but only at 5 gigabytes a day, do you realize that it's going to take 1,005 days -- five years using your maximum rate limit every single day -- to get your data back? These are some of the things that people don't understand yet," Ramji says.


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