This model has been used by other organizations such as wordpress.com to provide users with options for using open source software in a Software-as-a-service (SAAS) environment. The introduction of the service by Omeka is not even the first in the library world but is notable in that it provides free and low cost options for individuals seeking digital publishing services.
The work being done by Omeka addresses a key challenge to implementing open source software in cloud environments. Often, open source platforms require administration skills that are not typically held by people who need the services. As a result, projects are often faced with choosing proprietary or vendor provided systems to support their needs.
The Omeka model is one of a number of options. For example, the tech team recently published a publicly-available server image running Vufind on Amazon EC2. The image is accompanied by documentation and a quick tutorial for launching the server and running vufind. While more technically complex than the Omeka solution, this approach enables libraries to try Vufind in a near-production environment with minimal technical knowledge or configuration overhead.
(Video tutorial on launching vufind in Amazon EC2)
There are also projects such as Archivists Toolkit that are positioned to leverage community-supported cloud platforms. AT uses a java client connecting to a remote MySQL database. This means that the only network or server-level IT resources required is a MySQL database connection. While perhaps prohibitively complex for many smaller organizations, this sort of service is being offered by a number of cloud providers including Amazon via RDS (Relational Database Service). With minimal overhead, an organization could launch and administer a dedicated MySQL instance with automatic replication, backups and a service level agreement.
At the Vufind 2.0 Conference, Joe Lucia commented on the challenge facing open source software communities as cloud computing becomes an important part of institutional computing. This can be a significant issue as open source software often comes with the caveat of ‘free as a free kitten.’ By finding ways to use cloud computing to make implementing and managing open source software easier, organizations like Omeka are helping bridge this gap. Kudos need to go to Omeka for finding a way to turn this challenge into an opportunity to help the library community build on the work done in the open source community!