5 Ways Cloud Computing Is Like Open Source

A decade ago, most IT departments denounced open-source software. Now they embrace the way that open source encourages innovation while saving money. The furor over cloud computing shows that history is repeating itself. The outcome should be the same, columnist Bernard Golden says.

In The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, Karl Marx famously says, "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."

Marx referred specifically to Louis Napoleon's coup d'état in 1851, which came nearly 52 years after his uncle, Napoleon Bonaparte, seized power in France in similar fashion. He might as well have been commenting on cloud computing, though.

The reaction of many in IT to cloud computing is eerily similar to initial responses by similarly placed people in regard to open-source software. One can view this latest set of reactions as a farcical repeat after the initial open-source struggle—and one can predict a repeat of the outcome, as cloud computing is undoubtedly going to emerge successful, just as open source did.

You may not remember the angst of the early- to mid-2000s, when the open source debate raged hot and heavy. Many times I witnessed IT professionals vociferously denigrate open source in favor of established proprietary vendors. I heard endless arguments about the quality disadvantages of open source, the lack of "professional ability" among open-source developers, the absolute requirement that a large company stand behind a software component used in a corporate system, the dangers of lack of indemnification, and on and on. According to large numbers of IT organization staff, open source was a toy, fine for unimportant hobby systems, but woefully inadequate for "real" corporate IT applications.

From the Vault: The Myths of Open Source

It was a field day for the IT industry—and in the end, all of that sturm and drang came to nothing. Open source triumphed. Corporate systems today routinely include a range of open-source components as a matter of course. One can argue that most of the new software components that corporations are using are, in fact, open source. I would even argue that, today, most of the innovation in infrastructure software is occurring in open-source projects, not proprietary products.

In Due Time, Cloud Computing Will Catch On, Too

Consequently, one does not need to be Carnac the Magnificent to predict that the enormous controversy surrounding cloud computing will, in the end, result in the same outcome. Cloud computing resembles open source in many ways and will succeed for much the same reasons—and in the face of much the same kind of dismissive disdain by mainstream IT.

Think I'm overstating the vehemence of IT professionals regarding cloud computing? Let me quote from a comment submitted to one of my recent blog postings:

Seems each and every article that comes off with this 'cloud' holy grail, yada yada stuff has a direct financial gain at stake with cloud adoption. You know, you haven't come up with anything at all that's new, and all this talk of moving control to third parties is laughable at best. I have had to deal with too many third party entities, and especially when it comes to email, that is a HUGE mistake. With that comment the author showed his lack of expertise with Enterprise IT, and I realized then for sure, the article was from one with $$ to gain, and they could care less about what IT has worked so hard for ober the years to gain contrrol of. (sic) Likewise the yo-yos who talk of toyblets and BYOT (T for toy, leave 'em at home kids)

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