What should I know before I deploy open source cloud software?
Open source cloud software may be free in many cases, but it still carries its own set of inherent costs. Businesses considering open source tools such as OpenStack will need to weigh the potential challenges of using open source software.
Software deployment know-how: Open source tools are usually provided as complete and compiled products that often include a distribution (version) for popular operating systems such as Cloudscaling, Debian, Fedora, Piston Cloud Computing, Red Hat, SwiftStack, SUSE, Ubuntu and StackOps. Make sure that the tool is available in a distribution that is compatible with your environment. If only the source code is available, things get a bit more complicated because you'll need IT staff with software development experience, as well as the corresponding software development tools, to compile, debug and prepare the cloud software for deployment.
An advantage to open source is that an adopter can tweak, adapt and refine the product's features and functionality for each unique environment. But this requires software developers with a keen knowledge of cloud and data center operations. Adopters with skeleton IT staffs may not be in a position to modify the open source code, and this may perpetuate missing features or performance issues that will have to wait for the developer community to address.
Be comfortable with support: Vendors usually tout rapid problem resolution through their help desks, but this support generally does not exist with open source cloud tools that are developed through a decentralized community effort. Nobody really "owns" the software, and nobody is really responsible for its support. There is almost always documentation and access to community forums for general questions or issues, but there's no 24/7 live technical support -- so open source users tend to be knowledgeable and self-sufficient. Don't even consider deploying an open source cloud tool in production without a thorough, long-term proof-of-concept deployment allowing IT staffers to gather comprehensive expertise in deploying and using the tool.
This was first published in October 2013