Clouds Come Up Against Open Source Ethics

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Cloud is the first computing revolution created in the era of open source.

While ( AMZN) has proprietary advantage in the Application Program Interface used for its EC2 cloud, and while VMware ( VMW) has proprietary advantage in its vSphere virtualization system, most of cloud computing runs on open source.

Hadoop , the "big data" system, is an open source tool. OpenStack, the cloud infrastructure originally developed through NASA, then run as open source by Rackspace ( RAX), is now managed by an independent OpenStack Foundation .

Open source idealism is infused throughout the cloud computing industry. This makes profit harder to come by as the benefits of open source flow naturally to users rather than bankers or salesmen. It means that if you're in the cloud computing business, you need to tread lightly, keeping your knife in your boot rather than on your belt.

VMware and Red Hat ( RHT) are now learning this the hard way as they battle over an open source project called Vert.X .

Vert.X was first developed through a VMware employee named Tim Fox, so VMware acted as its corporate "sponsor," paying Lee for following his passion. The software lets teams build cloud applications in a variety of computer languages, so Red Hat was quick to support it for its OpenShift cloud platform.

It was when Red Hat recruited Fox from VMware that the trouble started. As ZDNet's Jack Clark explained , VMware lawyers demanded Fox give the company back control of the project, which Fox did.

The result was an explosion of concern at the Google Group supporting the project, with developers threatening to "fork" it so there might be two Vert.X versions, one for VMware and one for Red Hat.

But this would also mean developers having to reinvent the wheel, and the versions would, in time, become incompatible. The two companies quickly put out a joint statement promising to work things out through the Vert.X "community."

I have covered open source since 2005 and this sort of thing happens often. When corporate agendas get in the way of community agendas, what's unique about open source is the community tends to win.

After Oracle ( ORCL) bought Sun Microsystems a few years ago, gaining control of the Java open source programming language, Open Office office suite and Solaris operating system, it quickly found itself unable to fully capitalize on all this "intellectual property" due to community resistance.

Open Office was eventually spun into the Apache Foundation, Oracle was forced to back off its efforts to control Java, according to IDC analyst Al Hilwa , and even Open Solaris re-emerged with a new open source community behind it, as former Sun evangelist Simon Phipps noted in Infoworld.

What investors want to know after all this is, where did the money go? It went, and is going, to people and companies using the software. It's going to those running cloud services like Google ( GOOG), and it's going to companies building services on top of clouds like Facebook ( FB).

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst probably said it best. Software is a wrench and standardized, open source software tools are like nuts and bolts in standard sizes. The profit lies in using those tools to build the services defining the post-industrial revolution, a revolution that has only just begun.

At the time of publication the author had positions in GOOG and RHT.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.