OpenStack: We Are The Open Cloud Alternative

OpenStack will be the open alternative to proprietary cloud players, the open-source cloud initiative's driving forces said Thursday at the OpenStack Conference in Boston.

And as the Rackspace-led OpenStack open-source cloud initiative moves headlong into its second year and experiences a groundswell of interest and participation within its community, 2012 is the time to "think bigger" and prove itself as the open alternative.

"I think we owe a debt of gratitude to VMware and Amazon," Lew Moorman, Rackspace cloud president and chief strategy officer, told several hundred attendees at the OpenStack Conference, noting that VMware and Amazon were trailblazers of the low-cost scalable cloud model. But, Moorman said, VMware and Amazon are closed source, they make closed platforms, and as the cloud computing revolution continues, there will need to be an open alternative. That alternative, he said, is OpenStack.

"Can proprietary platforms alone drive this revolution?" he asked, later adding "There has to be an alternative."

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During his presentation, Moorman showed a slide featuring a picture of Oracle's headquarters, which he called "the high temple of lock-in" and said that Oracle is a client-server giant, but "we need to create an open alternative."

In an interview following his presentation, Moorman said there is room for another player to thrive in a market driven by VMware, Amazon and others. Comparing the incumbents to the Apple iPhone and OpenStack to Google Android, which has made great strides in the smartphone market relying on its open model, Moorman said open alternatives are gaining traction.

"The world is not going to allow it to just go to one party," Moorman said. "This thing is too big. There are too many places it needs to go. There are too many directions it needs to head. It's just natural for there to be an open ecosystem that will rival those great proprietary systems that exist and that have been incredibly innovative and have done really well. To me this is a huge market with huge opportunity and I think OpenStack can do incredibly well and VMware can do incredibly well and Amazon and others can do really well. But I think that there's only going to be so many platforms."

Moorman added: "I do not think this is about beating the proprietary models, it's about creating an alternative and a different approach."

Still, there are benefits to OpenStack's model that the big vendors in this space don't offer.

"Amazon today is a hosted model only. It's their product and you're dealing with them; that's it," Moorman said. "OpenStack you can host it anywhere. You can host it on-premise; you can host it at Rackspace; you can host it, in the future, with HP or Korea Telecom. There's going to be a world of providers you can use. That's an incredible benefit to have that kind of freedom. I think the VMware pricing adjustments that have been made recently are a clear indication that they're an enterprise software company. They make great enterprise software and they've got incredible market share, but I also think that for some of the larger companies there's a reason there was outrage there because people felt that they were being taken advantage of. This is free code. It's not as packaged, it's not as robust as VMware today. But it's got incredible momentum."

Next: OpenStack Continues Momentum

Moorman told the room at the OpenStack Conference that Rackspace bet its business on OpenStack, which launched in July 2010 as an open-source cloud computing initiative, investing tens of millions of dollars to build it up as the open cloud alternative to the incumbents.

According to Jim Curry, Rackspace Cloud Builders general manager, OpenStack has drawn more than 120 companies including Cisco, Citrix, Dell, HP and countless other household names into its community; has more than 1,700 participants and roughly 300 active developers; and has experienced more than 50,000 downloads from its code repository, which doesn't take into account downloads from other sources.

OpenStack is also now in its fourth code release, dubbed Diablo, which added more than 67 new features, 12 of which are considered major new features from eight different companies. Diablo also featured two new incubated projects, Dashboard and Identity, which are driven by various contributing companies, Curry said. And recently, OpenStack has added more companies to its ecosystem, the latest being Akamai; has spawned four companies founded on OpenStack, including Piston Cloud Computing and Nebula; and has been an integral component in product launches from Dell, HP and others.

And with the next code release, Essex, planned for January 2012, Curry said OpenStack will "focus on users."

According to Moorman, OpenStack in 2011 was starting up. In 2012, it's thinking bigger.

"Congratulations, OpenStack is real," he said.

Next: The OpenStack Foundation Is Coming

But OpenStack goes beyond open source. It's an open platform for computing, Moorman said. Taking cues from the growth of the Web, OpenStack is working to be that open platform. And to continue that charge, Moorman unveiled Rackspace's plans to turn over OpenStack governance and assets like copyrights and trademarks to the OpenStack Foundation, an independent not-for-profit that will take over OpenStack next year.

"We want this to be a truly open, independent, long-term success story," he said.

Moorman said forming a foundation around OpenStack has always been the project's goal.

"We've always been very open that we think a foundation is a long-term home, we just have to figure out details. We just feel the time is right," he said in an interview. "The progress it made in one year, 15 months, is quite shocking. I wouldn't have imagined we'd be here this fast. Right now the community has real direction; it has a rhythm of operating. What we want to do is really ensure over the long term it can continue to thrive the way it has."

Moorman said he'd challenge anyone to find an open source community that has been governed the way Rackspace and its community have overseen OpenStack, but passing the torch to the foundation will allay concerns over what would happen should Rackspace be acquired. The company has long deflected acquisition rumors, but Moorman said past incidents of acquisition involving other open-source projects have created concern and the OpenStack foundation is a solid way to quell those fears.

"There's one issue which is: What happens if we're acquired and the acquiring company can rule things over? People say 'What happens then?' And the truth of the matter is that the answer is if that happens -- we've been very clear we're not for sale; we're not looking to be sold -- if that happens someone else can change the rules," Moorman said. "By putting it in a foundation long term you end up in a position where there's going to be a long term open model. And I think that that is actually the big concern. How do you protect it for the long term?"