VMware Unleashes VMware Integrated OpenStack Distribution

It's been more than two years since VMware joined the OpenStack community, but Monday the company, in a sense, consummated the relationship by releasing its first distribution of the open-source cloud operating system.

At an event in San Francisco leading up to VMware Partner Exchange, CEO Pat Gelsinger and CTO Ben Fathi formally presented to partners the production version of VMware Integrated OpenStack.

The new distro will enable current VMware customers to access the powerful functionality of the open-source cloud platform while maintaining their legacy VMware environments and workloads.

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VMware Integrated OpenStack will be free for vSphere enterprise customers and with all editions of vCloud Suite.

In a VMware blog, Amr Abdelrazik, a product marketing manager, wrote that developers had been asking VMware to deliver OpenStack APIs.

"We wanted to help them leverage their existing VMware investments and expertise to confidently deliver production-grade OpenStack, backed by a unified support from VMware," Abdelrazik wrote.

In its infancy, OpenStack was envisioned as a pure rival to VMware, which at the time utterly dominated the data center virtualization arena.

In 2012, however, VMware telegraphed its OpenStack evolution by acquiring Nicira, a software-defined networking developer contributing to the project, as well as DynamicOps, a vendor of cloud automation and management tools.

The company's embrace of OpenStack a month later, however, was still a somewhat unexpected development -- one that brought to the project a certain cachet. Which didn't translate to the Palo Alto, Calif.-based software giant being welcomed with open arms.

"The OpenStack community had sort of an immediate revulsion to it," said Christopher MacGowan, CTO of Piston Cloud, an OpenStack vendor.

Since then, however, VMware has been an active contributor, making OpenStack enthusiasts more at ease.

"From a good citizen perspective, over the past few years they've shown themselves to be a good citizen," MacGowan, who once sat on the OpenStack board, told CRN.

While VMware's distro includes a good amount of proprietary functionality, MacGowan said he's confident the company's plan isn't to violate the project's core spirit of openness.

Rather than luring current OpenStack users into a more restrictive solution, he believes VMware's goal is to enable its own customers to gain the interoperability benefits of OpenStack.

Boris Renski, CMO and co-founder of Mirantis, another rival OpenStack vendor, said, "There are many enterprises with significant investments in VMware's virtualization solutions who don't want to change hypervisors and are already paying their vCenter licenses."

Renski, who sits on the OpenStack board, said those customers "are great candidates for VMware's OpenStack distro." He also noted that Mirantis already partners closely with VMware to give joint customers greater flexibility and the best tools for specific workloads.

NEXT: An Open Question

But the VMware distro does again raise the question of whether name-brand vendors will fracture the project or propel it forward. Could OpenStack contributors such as Hewlett-Packard, Red Hat, IBM and now VMware eventually cause a rift by offering competing versions of a product conceived to foster openness?

Jesse Proudman, founder and CTO of Blue Box Group, told CRN that won't happen.

"Fortunately, the OpenStack Foundation and the power of the OpenStack trademark help prevent a splintering of the community into distinct products by enforcing core requirements," Proudman said.

But Proudman added that in addition to those built-in controls, it's still important to remember that OpenStack's development was centered on the premise of interoperability and API compatibility between multiple distinct clouds.

"While it's certainly a vendor's prerogative to differentiate their offering with additional functionality, I believe that maintaining interoperability is vital to any OpenStack-based product or service," he told CRN.

Renski sees VMware Integrated OpenStack as only advancing the project's goals.

"While VMware may well eat into the OpenStack market with their VIO offering, with this announcement they also accelerate and grow the market for OpenStack software by effectively declaring it as the de facto standard to their entire installed base," he told CRN.

MacGowan, who helped develop OpenStack in his days with Rackspace, said the OpenStack Foundation carefully implemented controls to prevent fragmentation. He added that to appreciate VMware's potential impact, you need to consider the history of the project.

The vision was never to keep developers from building proprietary functionality on top of OpenStack.

"The OpenStack community has a vested interest in having commercial vendors that are successful," he said. "The goal was interoperability across services, but not necessarily API interoperability or code interoperability."

What Rackspace, his former employer, and NASA envisioned was a consortium of vendors building a common core, but also implementing their own value-adds such as high availability or service orchestration.

"Those are huge value propositions that OpenSource doesn't interest itself in," MacGowan told CRN.

And VMware is doing just that, with its primary value-add being VMware integration, with proprietary extensions and APIs specific to VMware technologies.

"What VMware is doing is cannibalizing their own customer base to prevent them from going off in these directions. They are giving them a way to step into the cloud ecosystem while keeping their feet on the ground," MacGowan said.