Cooperative FOSS clouds

Free software advocate Richard M. Stallman is critical of the concept of software as a service (SaaS), which he instead refers to as Service as Software Substitute (SaSS). In order to understand his objections to SaaS/SaSS, we need to know the four freedoms RMS champions:

  • the freedom to run software
  • the freedom to study software
  • the freedom to redistribute software
  • the freedom to improve software

In the world of SaaS software is run on the hardware owned and controlled by the service provider. This is rather obviously contrary to the third and fourth freedom. However, there are also tensions with the first two freedoms.

As SaaS is run on a remote server rather than on the user’s own hardware, the user has little control on how the software is actually run. Depending on the provider’s policies, users might or might not be able to change certain configuration settings. Also putting one’s files on the hardware of another, creates privacy concerns.

Nevertheless SaaS has like other cloud computing concepts like IaaS and PaaS, offer certain benefits to its users. Especially in case of small and medium-sized businesses, cloud computing can offer levels of security that would be too expensive or too complicated to achieve by SMEs on their own.

Yet the fact remains that cloud computing makes business owners dependent upon a few multinational corporations. Combined with high thresholds for moving from one provider to another, will reduce consumer power to force cloud providers to change their policies.

As an alternative to current cloud solutions, we propose the establishments of cloud cooperatives. For starters a cooperative is a business that is owned and controlled by its members, either workers or consumers rather than by shareholders. In this case the cloud cooperative will be owned by its users.

User-members will pay membership fees, not unlike current subscription fees, however, unlike commercial cloud providers, the members will also be to appoint and dismiss the cooperative’s management. On its turn the management will hire people to maintain to cooperative’s infrastructure.

In contrast with commercial cloud providers the members of the cloud cooperative will own all of the infrastructure collectively. And even though most day-to-day decisions will be made by the management, the members will have the final say in all matters.

In line with our commitment to free and open source software we obviously propose that these cloud cooperatives should exclusively use FOSS. Hence a part of the funds should be used to fund the development and maintenance of software.

Ideally cloud cooperatives should be organized on a regional basis, i.e. members will be located in the same general area and its data-centers should also be located in the area where the cooperative operates. Local cooperatives could organize themselves into national or global associated in order to share the costs of certain software projects.

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