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Can OpenStack Change The Cloud Computing Game?

Rackspace's OpenStack open-source cloud computing initiative could create new opportunities for cloud providers and partners as they look to compete against the big boys.

Rackspace and NASA have paired to deliver an open-source cloud computing platform, dubbed OpenStack, and cloud providers and partners are pumped for the possibility of more open cloud computing and possible standardization.

The OpenStack initiative officially launched on Monday. Both Rackspace and NASA have open-sourced their cloud computing code to let users and providers anywhere build their own cloud environments. Rackspace plans to open the code to its Cloud Files and Cloud Servers offerings, while NASA is giving users a look at the code and technology that powers its Nebula Cloud Platform.

The move, both organizations said, is a push in the direction of cloud computing standards as well as a way to build community involvement and interoperability around the growing cloud market.

"As it turns out, it actually is rocket science," Mark Collier, Rackspace vice president of business and corporate development, quipped of the open source cloud computing project and its ties with NASA.

The OpenStack play is also drawing the attention of service providers and the channel, which are looking to bulk up their cloud offerings and leverage the OpenStack code for core cloud infrastructure offerings. Collier said the OpenStack initiative gives partners a new way to commercialize and build solutions and opportunities in the cloud.

"Now they have another way to design solutions," he said.

And Rackspace's cadre of OpenStack partners said Rackspace is taking a new track in open source cloud computing and they are looking forward to building upon the open cloud vision.

"The bottom line is that we believe this to be a potentially game changing event. The reason is that Rackspace has committed itself to a true open-source project, meaning that it’s not just source thrown over the wall into the open, but also an open design process, an open development process, and an open community," Thorsten von Eicken, CTO of RightScale, a cloud management platform provider and Rackspace Cloud Tools partner, wrote in a blog post.

According to von Eicken, the industry needs an alternative to Amazon and the OpenStack play fills that void. It will enable feature-rich cloud computing leveraged by a host of service providers, like Rackspace, but can also be run internally, like by NASA.

"And the industry needs an alternative to Amazon, not because of some problem with AWS, but because in the long run cloud computing cannot fulfill its promise to revolutionizing the way computing is consumed if there aren’t a multitude of vendors with offerings targeting different use-cases, different needs, different budgets, different customer segments, etc.," von Eicken wrote.

Randy Bias, CEO of CloudScaling.com, a San Francisco-based cloud computing consultancy and strategy company, said OpenStack represents an opportunity for service providers to build out offerings to rival the likes of Amazon and VMware, and possibly Google, when it comes to storage and compute offerings.

"There's a clear path for service providers to tread now that there was not before," he said.

Alex Povli, CEO of Rackspace Cloud Tools partner and cloud management provider CloudKick, agreed.

"I can see a future where there are a set of providers who run OpenStack," he said.

Next: Is OpenStack Right For The Enterprise?


Bias said OpenStack also creates more aggregate value for all users as more clouds run on an open platform. "The bigger opportunity is to have something that's open and interoperable across several different clouds," he said. And as OpenStack creates an opportunity for a community to rally around OpenStack tools, strong uptake is likely, Bias said.

Bias added that there is strong opportunity for service providers that leverage the storage and compute offerings of OpenStack and differentiate themselves with a suite of services built upon it, like load balancing, data recovery and backup, Bias said. OpenStack gives those providers the ability to build a baseline cloud that is scalable and competes on cost, and to get it running and functional then layer services and support atop it.

"The challenge isn't,'Can they differentiate?' it is 'how fast can they get to parity for the baseline so that it runs itself and then begin to build out a suite of services on top of that?'" Bias said "The longer they wait to get in the game with the baseline [cloud], the harder differentiation will be."

But not everyone is 100 percent sold on OpenStack opportunities just yet. John Treadway, director of cloud services for Blue Bell, Pa.-based systems integrator Unisys, said in an interview that while OpenStack is "pretty intriguing," it's going to take time to gain meaningful traction in the growing cloud computing market.

Treadway said as it stands now OpenStack looks to be more a cloud stack for the SMB that service providers can leverage. However, he questions where those providers will be able to differentiate themselves and their offerings as all are utilizing the same code. Treadway added that OpenStack is not yet ready for enterprise use.

"My expectation is that this will serve the needs of service providers looking to deploy an SMB cloud offering similar to Rackspace Cloud, but that it won't do much for the enterprise for some significant period of time," Treadway wrote in a post on his CloudBzz blog. "Service providers might be leery too – first in terms of having no throat to choke (no commercialization partner), but also out of concerns of having a me-too service. Do you really want to compete with Rackspace with their own code? Smart people can still provide differentiation, but there may be a natural aversion to basing your cloud on one of your main competitor's kit."

Treadway said services like Cloud.com and Enomaly offer that "single through to choke." Right now, Treadway said, it doesn't appear OpenStack will fit the needs for Unisys' enterprise customers, which are looking beyond the cloud stack.

Another unknown is how active OpenStack community members and the "friends" that have gathered to show support for the initiative will be over time as OpenStack evolves, Treadway said.

"In six months, will these companies still be interested in supporting this or will they be changing the next shiny new object?" he asked. Later, Treadway added: "It's too soon to say whether [OpenStack] will change any games or make things fundamentally better."

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