OpenStack Cloud Platform Gains Momentum, But Rivals Circle

This week marks the second anniversary of the founding of the OpenStack cloud computing platform, and it will be an occasion for celebration in the open-source community. After all, OpenStack is leading a movement in cloud computing, garnering the label of the "Linux of cloud computing," a reference to the hugely successful open-source operating system.

OpenStack started as an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) cloud computing project by Rackspace and NASA, and has grown at a rapid pace with more than 150 companies participating in the project. On Wednesday at the OSCON open-source convention in Portland, Ore., an expected 3,000 attendees will salute OpenStack.

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OpenStack is supported by many tech stalwarts, including Dell, HP, IBM, NetApp and Red Hat, all endorsing the OpenStack commitment to open-source development and the use of nonproprietary technologies within cloud stacks. In April, Rackspace turned control of the project over to the OpenStack Foundation, which will continue to develop the platform.

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But despite the fanfare surrounding OpenStack, its future isn't completely assured. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), with its automated cloud services model and commonly used APIs (application program interfaces), remains the largest cloud services provider. In addition, other cloud standards have emerged this year to challenge OpenStack. In April, Citrix ended support for OpenStack and instead turned its own cloud platform, CloudStack, over to the Apache Software Foundation, in effect creating a rival open-source cloud service provider.

And if that weren’t enough competition, Eucalyptus, a private cloud stack provider with API compatibility with EC2, in March teamed with Amazon to help its customers transfer workloads between private clouds and Amazon Web Services.

Still, OpenStack proponents say the platform is stronger than ever.

Jonathan Bryce, co-founder of Rackspace Cloud and another member of the OpenStack project policy board, said Rackspace is on a steeper growth curve than Linux at a comparable time, referring to statistics that show OpenStack had 166 companies contributing to OpenStack by the 84th week, while Linux had 180 companies contributing by the 828th week.

"We really see OpenStack as the right way to approach the cloud," Bryce said. "It creates an open ecosystem."

NEXT: OpenStack Vs. Amazon

Bryce praised Amazon for being a first-mover in cloud services but said it limits the ability of developers to customize cloud workloads.

"Amazon offers a good cloud service, but there are a lot more options that people want to use to build private and public clouds. You can get OpenStack from HP, Rackspace and many others and build your cloud just as you want." Joe Kelley, CEO of Infochimps in Austin, Texas, which offers cloud-based data services, has been using OpenStack from Rackspace for several months to offer cloud services to its customers, and says he finds the platform easy to use.

"We set up our own platform, customize it for customers and create a proof of concept," he said. "It's becoming increasingly important to deliver seamless integration, and we can deploy to any cloud provider that uses OpenStack. It will be valuable to say we can put it in OpenStack."

Amazon, for its part, believes the criticism of its lack of flexibility is overblown and emphasizes the breadth of its services.

"Ideas on openness and standards have been talked about for years in Web services. And, we do believe standards will continue to evolve in the cloud computing space," Amazon spokesperson Rena Lunak wrote to CRN. "But, what we've heard from customers thus far, customers who are really committed to using the cloud, is that the best way to illustrate openness and customer flexibility is by what you actually provide and deliver for them."

Amazon has for six years made AWS available in multiple programming languages, operating systems and platforms according to customer needs, Lunak said.

"We'll continue to pursue an approach of providing customers with maximum flexibility as the standards discussion unfolds," she added. ‪

One satisfied Amazon partner, Kevin Chu, director of systems and infrastructure at Digitaria, a JWT company based in San Diego, said his company is interested in OpenStack but moving away from a partner and retraining staff is not easy.

"Both Digitaria and AWS have invested quite a bit to train and educate our staff on AWS products as well as set up operational processes to handle almost any situation," said Chu. "AWS has a head start over the other guys; however, the game-changer will be how fast the other guys can reach feature parity to AWS."

In fact, the use of different platforms is growing as cloud providers see that businesses have many uses for their data center resources.

NEXT: RightScale Sees Emergence Of Hybrid Clouds

Josh Fraser, senior vice president of Sales and Business Development at RightScale, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based company that manages cloud infrastructure from all of the cloud providers across public, private and hybrid clouds, said his company believes all the providers will prosper as companies increasingly choose to use hybrid clouds. He said 87 percent of RightScale's customer cloud usage comes from more than one cloud provider.

OpenStack's architecture allows developers to mix-and-match components to build platforms according to their needs, he said. "I don't think it's a question of either Amazon or OpenStack," he said. "Most customers need multiple options, and Amazon is typically not able to solve the complex needs of every customer."

Several analysts agree with this point of view. Gary Chen, research manager for IDC's Cloud and Virtualization System Software group, says OpenStack's development is similar to that of Linux, and jousting among cloud rivals compares with the Linux, Windows, Unix operating system spats. "We are in the early days of the cloud," Chen said. "One cloud platform is not going to meet the needs of every customer."

Jeff Kaplan, founder and managing director of research firm ThinkStrategies, said that the number of platform choices means customers have to be vigilant. "Customers should pay close attention to the maneuvering going on,’ he said. ’Don’t make a commitment to any stack unless it meets your needs and long-term objectives." Disputing the notion that OpenStack, Amazon and the others will permanently co-exist was Lydia Leong, Gartner’s research vice president of the Technology and Service Provider group, who said customers will want to be associated with Amazon because it is the largest provider with the most commonly used APIs. "You support the guy with the most market share," she said. "I believe the AWS ecosystem is the one that has the momentum." Hewlett-Packard at first seemed to exemplify this hard-nosed approach, when it announced in June that it would make its APIs compatible with AWS despite being one of OpenStack’s biggest supporters. But HP said the move was no knock on OpenStack.

"We're at a crossroads in the industry where one company has come to market early and their APIs are dominant," said Brian Aker, a Fellow at Hewlett-Packard's Cloud Division. "For us to acknowledge that and support their APIs -- that should be obvious as good business. But there is a lot to be learned and first markets don’t always get things right. There is a strong group involved with OpenStack, and we will see many more use cases enabled by OpenStack APIs."


This story was updated at 4:07 p.m. PST to correct for the location of RightScale's base location in Santa Barabara, Calif.