Monday, December 7, 2009

Open Cloud Services & Co-operative Community Clouds

Now that I'm back and have had chance to recuperate from from my trip to Israel I thought I'd share a few of the more interesting ideas to come out of the conversations I've had. In particular were several comments that Alistair Croll made at CloudCamp Tel Aviv about the potential opportunities for what he described as "Free / Open Cloud Services" as well as an idea I had around the potential of so called "Cooperative Community Clouds".

First in regards to Open Cloud Services, basically the concept goes like this; as we move away from the traditional client/server based models of the past to more web centric / service oriented opportunities of the future, we will see open source shift from application centric (source code) toward free open services and information. Cloud providers will essentially give away access in return for greater adopt of their platforms / services, increased customer acquisition and to accelerated creation of data and information. Basically the same reasons companies open source their applications today, just applied in a cloud context.

His comments really did get me thinking and reminded me of a potentially huge but generally overlooked opportunity for Cloud Computing. What I'm talking about is that of the "Community Cloud" or "Cloud Cooperative" which may be a potential avenue to enable these types of free or shared cloud services.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Community cloud concept, NIST defines it as "a cloud infrastructure that is shared by several organizations and supports a specific community that has shared concerns (e.g., mission, security requirements, policy, and compliance considerations). It may be managed by the organizations or a third party and may exist on premise or off premise."

For me the concept of a community cloud represents an opportunity to create shared pools of compute resources which could be made freely available among a diverse but related group of contributors. This could be for compliance reasons such as HIPAA in the US, geographical or economic rationale. The idea of a community cloud is a logical offshoot of the more traditional aspects of a co-operative (Co-op), a concept that dates back as long as human have been organizing for mutual benefit (expressed today as "profit-sharing" and "surplus sharing" arrangements). Historically Coop's were organized as cooperative structures, allocating jobs and resources among each other. The concept of a cloud co-op seems fairly well suited for the smaller cloud hosting & service providers who are now forced to compete with global multi-billion dollar cloud competitors. In a sense a Cloud Co-op provides the power to group many smaller independent cloud operators together creating a much stronger organization then any single contributor could hope accomplish on their own.

For example a group of European cloud providers could all agree to pool their resources and seamlessly offer capacity to each other. In someways this is already happening within the broader research realms such as the various grid & HPC organizations (i.e CERN). The key difference is applying this model to for profit businesses who need to compete against the larger players.

Back to the idea of open services, I agree we very well may be moving toward the free (as in beer) model for cloud providers as a method of customer adoption in the same way free software has helped in the adoption of traditional software. Although a major issue still remains. The biggest problem in providing free cloud resources, like in most other areas of open source is how to eventually monitize it. Right now it seems the quickest route to the monitization of free is to sell (your business, and your users) to some larger organization, making it their problem. Open source is a great tool in an established market (MYSQL Vs Oracle, etc), but in an emerging market it has the potential to cause more harm then good potentially driving the price to zero. Which in the long run isn't sustainable. But on the flip side, near zero cost capacity does open a wide range of other potential applications and usages for things we probably haven't even consider yet. I call it the twitter business model, build it, grow it, then figure out a way to monitize it.

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