Cloud

OpenStack: an open-source future for the cloud?

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This is a guest post written by cloud analyst Paul Miller, who is content advisor for VentureBeat’s upcoming CloudBeat 2012 conference, November 28-29 in Redwood Shores, Calif.

Established by US space agency NASA and hosting company Rackspace in 2010, the OpenStack open-source cloud project has done a remarkable job of attracting attention to itself over two short years. The project now lists over 150 participating companies including major players like Intel, Dell, HP, IBM, and Yahoo, and consistently eclipses earlier open source projects such as Eucalyptus in media coverage of the cloud.

For a quick check of its growth in mind-share, check out the graph above, taken from Google Trends. It shows OpenStack’s dominance (the blue line) of search terms for open source cloud infrastructure projects.

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OpenStack’s proposition is simple, with the same freely downloadable code powering big commercial cloud data centers run by Rackspace, Hewlett Packard, and others. Customers, the argument goes, are therefore able to easily move their applications from one provider to another without having to alter their own programs. They can even download a copy of OpenStack to run inside their own data center as well, which (in principle) makes it feasible to move computing jobs from a private data center to commercial clouds and back again, at will.

For some customers, this portability might be critical to the way they run their IT. For many (most?), it’s simply an insurance policy; a comforting demonstration that they can move, should they ever need to.

The proposition is simple, and it is compelling. The roster of participating names is a veritable who’s who of IT infrastructure. But the OpenStack story has not been without its hiccups:

  • Throughout much of 2011, grumbling about the degree of control exerted by Rackspace persisted. In October, 2011, Rackspace announced plans to pass control to an independent Foundation; a process that only completed this summer;
  • In April of this year, long-time OpenStack supporter Citrix took the CloudStack software it gained through acquisition of cloud.com in 2011, and submitted it to the Apache Software Foundation as a new (competing?) open source project. The first fruits of that project were released earlier this month. Citrix remains a ‘supporter’ of the OpenStack project;
  • In June, a blog post by NASA CIO Linda Cureton sparked a flurry of speculation, as pundits claimed NASA was ‘ditching’ OpenStack in favor of Amazon and Microsoft’s Windows Azure. The reality, in which a large and complex organization sensibly continued using a range of different tools for a plethora of different purposes was clearly too mundane to report;
  • And, despite already powering services for which customers are willing to pay, other pundits continue to complain that the code is developing too slowly, and neither robust nor complete enough for mainstream adoption.

Not the only game in town

OpenStack, however, is far from alone in providing cloud infrastructure. E-commerce behemoth Amazon remains the dominant provider of a public cloud solution, letting customers rent computing capacity in Amazon’s global network of data centers by the hour with a credit card.

Telecom giants such as AT&T and France’s SFR are also entering the market, as are established technology players from Dell and HP to Google and Microsoft.

Virtualization specialist VMware is increasingly keen to help its existing customers transform their corporate data centers into mini clouds, powered (of course) by VMware’s software.

Finally, smaller local entrants are increasingly offering services of their own, typically differentiated by geography, support, or nuances of configuration. These solutions are often proprietary or depend upon extensive modifications to open source foundations, and there are certainly plenty of open source pieces to choose from.

Those in need of some open source cloud infrastructure aren’t limited to OpenStack; they could also turn to Eucalyptus, OpenNebula, CloudStack, and others.

Each of these has its merits, and each is worth exploring further for its own particular story. OpenNebula, for example, emerged from a European research project and is now doing rather well in deployments both inside Europe and overseas.

Eucalyptus also emerged from academic research, this time at UC Santa Barbara. Designed to emulate Amazon capabilities using computers inside any data center, Eucalyptus has for years presented itself as a logical adjunct to Amazon usage. With OpenStack now promising the whole package (public and private clouds, running exactly the same code) there were many who presumed that Eucalyptus’ partial solution would struggle. I was amongst them but, despite continuing to attract less media attention, Eucalyptus continues to quietly attract paying customers. An agreement with Amazon earlier this year also made it easier for Eucalyptus to bill their product as the natural partner to Amazon’s offerings.

And if OpenStack ever gains sufficient marketshare to become a credible threat? The current market leader, Amazon, surely has a very simple response. The company will simply buy (or replicate) Eucalyptus, not in order to support innumerable private clouds for ever, but to smooth the path and drag reluctant corporate server-huggers ever closer to Amazon’s all-consuming data centers.

OpenStack certainly continues to attract the bulk of the media coverage for open-source cloud computing, and the project is also now beginning to deliver tangible deployments. But there is still plenty of room for other open source offerings to grow and differentiate.

Want to learn more? Open versus closed cloud computing is one of the six major themes of CloudBeat 2012, VentureBeat’s upcoming enterprise conference, November 28-29. With a stellar roster of speakers like Chris Kemp (co-founder of OpenStack whilst CTO at NASA), Chris Pinkham (responsible for the initial development of Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud whilst working at Amazon), Lew Tucker (responsible for the development of Sun’s cloud computing offering, and now vice-chair of the OpenStack Foundation), we’ll have plenty of expertise and insight available to attendees. What, we shall ask them, are the merits of the various ‘open’ clouds, and how do they stack up against today’s 800-pound gorilla (Amazon, of course), or the bold ambitions and deep pockets of relative newcomers such as Google? Is there enough room for everyone? Come to CloudBeat and find out.