It may sound like a wonkish debate, but it’s a serious one.

The cloud industry’s heavyweights are lining up on either side: Should OpenStack — the open source cloud project backed by many of Amazon’s foes, like HP, IBM, and Rackspace — support Amazon’s APIs? Or should it forge its own path?

Randy Bias

Above: Randy Bias, CTO of Cloudscaling

In one corner is Randy Bias, chief technology officer of Cloudscaling, who argues that the OpenStack project should mimic Amazon AWS APIs as closely as possibly. Only then can companies implementing their private clouds seamlessly shift workloads back and forth between Amazon and their own clouds.

Freedland, Mirantis

Above: Alex Freedland, co-founder of Mirantis

In the other corner are people like Boris Renski and Alex Freedland, the co-founders of Mirantis, the largest OpenStack consulting firm. They argue that pushing for compatibility with Amazon APIs ranks as a lesser concern for OpenStack, and in fact may be a distraction. More important, they say, is that OpenStack contributors strive to make it a viable cloud alternative, by making it feature rich (and thus better than Amazon’s), and ensuring its various components integrate correctly.

You can watch the video of a recent debate between Renski and Bias, or read this helpful summary. You’ll note that a flash poll after the debate found that most people agreed with Bias’ viewpoint.

Marten Mickos, Eucalyptus

Above: Marten Mickos, CEO of Eucalyptus

At CloudBeat next week, we’ll be inviting Cloudscaling’s Bias and Mirantis’ Freeland to continue the debate, but this time together with a third player, Mårten Mickos of Eucalyptus.

Eucalyptus stands out, because it offers an OpenStack competitor cloud, but closely supports Amazon APIs. Mickos argues that his company has a big advantage: it offers a private cloud competitor that is integrated, and well supported, without the push and pull of competing contributors that has held OpenStack back. Mickos will also bring a real customer of his to the debate, so that we can hear directly just how important (or not important) Amazon compatibility is.

To be sure, each customer seeking to install a private cloud has different needs, and so the answer isn’t clear cut. Some fast-moving businesses with lots of continuous media storage needs will clearly want to be able to burst frequently from their private cloud to a public cloud that is more elastic. Having compatible APIs to interoperate with Amazon, the leading public cloud vendor, is critically important in such cases. Other customers may need less interfacing with Amazon, and so Amazon APIs are not important at all

For many businesses, they’ve chosen CloudStack or OpenStack or Open Nebula or one of the other perfectly decent alternatives to Amazon, and they’re quite happy in their own little world.

While Eucalyptus makes much of its compatibility with Amazon’s APIs, the OpenStack project has chosen to follow a different path — and that’s what’s been causing so much tension recently. Rackspace, the erstwhile leader of the OpenStack contributors, built APIs that were different from Amazon’s, and those have since become the default APIs. Randy Bias, at Cloudscaling, has decided to offer his own flavor of OpenStack that also supports Amazon’s APIs (see our story today).

Join Eucalyptus CEO Mårten Mickos, CloudScaling CTO and OpenStack Board Member Randy Bias, and Alex Freedland of Mirantis, at CloudBeat next week for a conversation about the need – or otherwise – to play by Amazon’s rules.

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