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What are the pros and cons of building an open source private cloud?

Open source products can be an inexpensive option for building a private cloud, but only if IT has the advanced skill set needed to operate them.

If you’re building a private cloud, you have the option of buying commercial hardware and software or looking at open source options. If you're deciding whether to build an open source private cloud you should first consider the following:

Effectiveness: Let’s face it, open source or not, the tools you select have to work effectively and reliably for you to be able to count on them. An open source private cloud and commercial option alike should be carefully evaluated to determine whether they can address your business challenges. Don’t count on the promise of future enhancements in every case, as timelines can be extended and priorities for adding features can change. Start by looking for the right tool for the job, rather than committing to open source or commercial.

Cost: Open source tools for private cloud can be cheap or free to get, but the long-term picture might not be so clear. Devoting the time and energy of your IT staff to customize and support open source tools can easily be far more expensive than buying a commercial option that works out of the box and comes with support and maintenance. Do your best to anticipate the level of effort for long-term operation of several options, and look for the scenario that works the best over the life of the solution.

Longevity: Open source storage options depend on the support of the community to keep them active and alive. Committing to software that isn't updated means being stuck with a limited set of capabilities at best, and at worst would require a costly and complicated replacement. Of course commercial options can also be discontinued due to an acquisition or simply a change in strategy on the part of the vendor, so don’t assume that this risk isn’t a consideration on both sides.

Stability: Commercial or open source tools can be highly reliable, but the more complicated they become with the addition of features and versions, the more risky they can get. Pay special attention to “forked” builds of open source tools -- if multiple development streams develop, different versions may contain different features, and keeping everything running and compatible can be a real challenge.

Compatibility: One of the biggest potential advantages of an open source approach for building a private cloud is usability with a wide range of hardware and software choices. Since open source tools aren’t vendor specific, they can often be compatible with a wide range of options from many competing vendors. Open source tools with significant momentum and wide vendor support can be one of the best options to support a heterogeneous environment. That said, it’s important to check compatibility carefully with all the vendors and versions in use, and don’t take it for granted that you'll get full feature support in every situation.

As with any transformational technology change, investing in a private cloud is a complex process that requires careful consideration. Always start with your business objectives -- clearly define what you need and then evaluate technologies that can support those goals. Build out scenarios of several ways to solve the problem and analyze the cost and operational impacts of each one over the course of several years. Once you have evaluated and vetted the accuracy of a few scenarios, then you can choose the one that fits your needs and your budget best.

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