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Open Source Clouds On The Rise

The U.S. government is an early adopter of cloud computing and a proponent of open source, two trends that are about to intersect.

Cloud computing has the potential to transform how government agencies tap into IT services, and open source is an underlying technology in several of the early government clouds that have been developed.

We have yet to see the federal government issue a position on open source clouds, but it's clear that agencies have a green light to move ahead with open source and cloud computing. It's only a matter of time before these two trends come together in the form of open source clouds.

A challenge for government agencies is determining how one cloud can work with other clouds and IT systems to provide the same secure, robust infrastructure that exists with traditional IT environments. Here's where agencies may turn to open source, which has the advantage of "openness," providing flexibility, interoperability, and the potential for customization without the risks of vendor lock-in.

Components of the open source software stack that are being used to build and manage clouds include:

• Linux operating system. Ubuntu's Enterprise Cloud combines Ubuntu Linux with Eucalyptus and other cloud management tools. Red Hat Enterprise Linux and other Linux variants can also be used in combination with other open source programs to create cloud environments.

• Eucalyptus. Conceived as a research project at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Eucalyptus joined the world of commercial open source with the launch of Eucalyptus Systems in 2009. Eucalyptus incorporates the Apache Axis2 Web services engine, Mule enterprise service bus, Rampart security, and Libvirt virtualization. Eucalyptus comes with its own implementation of the Amazon API.

• Deltacloud. Red Hat launched the Deltacloud project in September to help ease the integration between public and private clouds. Deltacloud creates a common, REST-based API to map to Amazon EC2 as well as private clouds that use VMware or Red Hat Enterprise Linux. The Deltacloud Portal manages all of the cloud deployments that may exist within an environment, providing a common integration platform. Red Hat intends for Deltacloud to become a standard.

• Nimbus. An open source toolkit that turns clusters into infrastructure as a service, Nimbus' EC2 interface lets organizations access public cloud infrastructures. The Nimbus cloud client lets you provision customized compute nodes with full control.

• Virtual machine hypervisors. Open source options include Xen Server from Citrix Systems' XenSource division and KVM, which is a part of the Linux kernel developed by Qumranet (now part of Red Hat).

• Simple Cloud API. Zend Technologies' Simple API can be used for calling a cloud service from multiple clouds. GoGrid, IBM, Microsoft, Nirvanix Storage Delivery Network, and Rackspace Files all support it.

In an example of how the pieces fit together, NASA's Ames Research Center is using Eucalyptus, the Lustre file system, Django Web application framework, and SOLR indexing and search engine in its Nebula cloud.

Standards are still needed to ensure the viability of open source clouds, and reliability and security have to be proven. With those concerns on the table, the gradual adoption of cloud computing, along with open source, is the path we're on. Open source can help minimize up-front investment, give agencies control over their clouds, and tap into shared resources.

Michael Biddick is president and CTO of Fusion PPT, a consulting and IT services firm. Write to him at

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