Photo Credit: aufziehvogel2006 (Kai) at Flickr
There are some who are asking if cloud will have an impact the growth of Open Source. For instance, my fellow AIIM board member Lubor Ptacek from OpenText suggests in his predictions for 2012 that "the Great Open Source Movement will hit the trough of disillusionment in 2012 - courtesy of the cloud." Presumably Lubor means Content Management in the cloud, because the cloud runs on Open Source. Operating System? Open Source (Linux as in LAMP)! Database? Open Source! Web Server? Open Source! Big Data? Open Source! App Development? Open Source! The cloud runs on Open Source and not Open Text -- or Oracle or IBM or Microsoft. I am assuming that he means the Open Source that has been a threat to his business of ECM (OpenText) or WCM (Vignette) and therefore he means Alfresco for ECM and Drupal and Joomla for WCM.
At Alfresco, Open Source offers no hype cycle "trough of disillusion"; we only seem to be seeing the "Slope of Enlightenment". Our Open Source Community platform continues to grow apace driven by new releases, such as the new Alfresco 4. There are now over 3.5 million downloads of Alfresco and the number of Community installations is in six figures. As a business, bookings grew 60% year over year in our last fiscal quarter ending in November. This growth is based upon significant revenue figures, not small numbers, and we are now the second largest Open Source company by revenue after Red Hat. We have a real business with over 2000 significant customers using Alfresco for mission critical information in many important industries. If that is disillusionment Lubor, I would hate to think on which slope OpenText is right now!
There is nothing to suggest that cloud and Open Source are mutually exclusive. The cloud is built from open source and if open source is architected to run in the cloud, it will. At Alfresco we have spent the last several years building multi-tenancy and scalability features into the Alfresco system to ensure that it can run in the cloud. This January we launched our cloud offering into beta and expect it to go into production later this Spring. The cloud will become yet another means of using Alfresco as well as trying the product before you buy. I have already articulated the use cases that we think will be important for running in the cloud. In addition, since Alfresco is capable of running an entire system on a single virtual machine or Amazon AWS instance, Alfresco is already used in many private and on-demand deployments. Rather than a threat, the cloud becomes a really big opportunity!
So rather than the cloud being a threat to Open Source, I presume that Lubor means cloud-based file sharing services such as Dropbox, Box, Huddle and others are a threat. Some of these are on the sharp edge of the Hype cycle and are gaining a lot of marketing oxygen as a result. There is no doubt of the popularity of Dropbox compared to anything in ECM, there are reportedly in excess of 50 million users. However, Dropbox is very complementary with Alfresco, which is why we will be providing an integration to/from Dropbox in the near future. Box is a company with more enterprise aspirations, comparing themselves to SharePoint, and although we rarely see them in the market today, we may in the future. However, Box is nothing like a SharePoint, or Alfresco or any other real content management system, as it lacks important features for content and document management such as metadata, workflow, rules and more than rudimentary policies. We shall see how cloud-based file management services and content management in the cloud evolve over the coming couple of years based upon the use cases I mentioned earlier.
As with on-premise proprietary systems, Open Source offerings in the cloud can provide advantages over closed cloud-based offerings. Rather than being the domain of tinkerers, Open Source is mandated as preferred first choice by many governments and organizations. Open Source is transparent and you know exactly how it works. Unlike running software on-premise, you have no idea how software works in the cloud, how it is encrypted or how your data is being stored. In addition, Open Source means that you are not locked into the software that you are running, whether it is running in the cloud or not. You have the choice to deploy it elsewhere and there is not cost to doing so. Open Source as a development model means that the Community is creating new solutions and news extensions, many of which will be very useful for cloud-based solutions. I look forward to sharing some of these with you in the coming months. Far from being at a disadvantage, I see Open Source as being a distinct advantage in the Cloud.
I think a more interesting question is how both cloud-based file management services and open source content management affect the existing ECM sector, which is already stuck in neutral. Having the flexibility to move into the cloud, even a private one, offers new opportunities to explore new applications, deployment scenarios, and business models. As far as I am aware, OpenText, Documentum and FileNet (correct me if I'm wrong) are incapable of running in the cloud. They all require multiple servers running different complex configurations just to get a single instance up. Last I heard, OpenText has a fragile url configuration that couldn't possibly work in a virtualized, cloud environment. And last I heard EMC Documentum was not even certified to run on VMware. I doubt we will see a public service of these systems in my lifetime. What use cases and business opportunities could this preclude?
Seems to me that ECM's "Plateau of Productivity" is tailing off and that represents threats for the large guys and opportunities for the new. I am actually very excited about the cloud and what it can bring and I have never had more faith in Open Source as a way to address those opportunities.