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A dozen years ago or so I was in Milan planning the first television quiz show that allowed participants to text message responses. In 2001, that was an idea ahead of its time with a price tag to match.

We transformed a janitor’s closet into a mini-datacenter, bought and built beefed up AIX/PostgresSQL DB backends, Solaris/Tomcat web servers and Delphi/Windows frontends, hoping we bought enough silicon to withstand the load. We ran four leased lines to the SMS centers and fought long and hard with different SMS protocols until we found Kannel, an open source SMS gateway. The final bill? $400,000USD.

We were successful in the end, but it was painful for the board to throw all of that money at a system that would be used only one day a week and then turned into coffee tables after ten episodes. Our board knew the project looked cool, but was it good enough to gamble that much?

For kicks, I took a quick stab at the cost of doing the same thing today using the cloud. As a Microsoft guy, I used Windows Azure pricing but I bet the ballpark is the same for other cloud vendors. It’s possible to build something similar today for as little as $300USD — less than a tenth of a thousandth of the original $400,000 price tag. In only a dozen years. Are we living in miraculous times or what?

And it’s not just about hardware costs versus renting servers. Today I could rewrite the app mixing and matching pieces of the grand IT buffet. Cloud services, open source libraries, APIs, and mobile apps can all come together to make the job less complex and so much cheaper.

It is a great day to be an entrepreneur, and as someone who used to be in the business owner’s shoes, I am seeing the shift positively impacting companies, from startups to the enterprise. The shift in how technology is being used is amazing and as companies take advantage, innovation will only flourish.

I’m a firm believer in open cloud platforms — be it in the way you interact with cloud APIs or in the number of open technologies it supports and leverages. Open source technologies such as Linux, Java, MySQL, MongoDB, PHP, Node.js and countless others are the building blocks and the basic plumbing for those who want to turn ideas into products — fast and cheap. The cloud is not just about handling any workload you can throw at it. It’s about connecting the great technologies you know and love in a way that takes your application to the next level and turns it into a product that is easier to manage, scale and stay affordable.

Ten years ago, heck five years ago, you had to really debate on whether to work with open source or stick with an enterprise suites of services, and today the philosophical discussions about open source versus proprietary systems are simply gone. You use what works.

I have one of the best jobs in the world, as every day I get to meet with customers and partners and participate in open source communities. Every day I see a new idea coming to life thanks to some smart code and a server bill that a personal credit card can handle.

The cloud offers more than just workloads and can take your company, application, idea to the next level.  The best combination of open and proprietary technologies in the cloud is out there — you just have to find it.

Gianugo Rabellino is the senior director of open source communities at Microsoft Open Technologies.


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