Will OpenStack Usher in a Cloud Revolution?

OpenStack is seen by many as the project that will, finally, make the cloud enterprise ready. Detractors don’t believe it and point to political in-fighting, domination by large vendors and a lack of maturity.


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Posted September 20, 2012

Jeff Vance

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If you’re already tired of all the hype surrounding cloud computing, you’d better brace yourself for another cycle focused on OpenStack, the open-source cloud platform that’s touted as the operating system for the cloud.

The forces aligning behind OpenStack are impressive ones. The project originated in NASA, was moved along in partnership with Rackspace and is now spearheaded by the OpenStack Foundation. OpenStack is backed by 180 member companies, including biggies like AT&T, HP, IBM, Cisco, VMware and Intel.

Oh, and the Foundation has $10 million in funding. Not bad.

Despite its roster of supporters, OpenStack has plenty of detractors too. Before acquiring network virtualization startup Nicira, recently added member VMware bad-mouthed OpenStack as an “ugly sister” to vCloud (the other ugly sisters being Citrix-led CloudStack and Eucalyptus).

I should also note that while you don’t hear much out of Amazon, AWS is the 800-pound, thus far silent, gorilla in the room.

Just when you were hoping the enterprise cloud picture was getting clearer, along comes political in-fighting about whose cloud is more open and which will meet the performance standards needed for enterprise-class cloud computing.

VMware Joins – Consensus or Kiss of Death

OpenStack was originally seen as an open alternative to VMware’s proprietary dominance over data center virtualization and what would eventually turn into proprietary clouds.

Boris Renski, EVP of cloud startup Mirantis and a Gold Member of OpenStack, isn’t happy about VMware’s participation in OpenStack. On the Mirantis blog, Renski wrote:

"Subduing OpenStack is exactly what VMware did by joining the foundation. Every enterprise considering OpenStack that we ever encountered at Mirantis was primarily interested in OpenStack as an open alternative to proprietary VMware. While in reality OpenStack and VMware are different kinds of beasts, perception-wise there is no argument: enterprises see OpenStack as a substitute for VMware. Now, with VMware in the OpenStack foundation, every enterprise buyer will rightfully ask the question: 'If OpenStack is not competing with VMware, then what the hell is OpenStack?'”

Not everyone in OpenStack feels this way. “Boris was one of two board members to vote against VMware. Two out of twenty-four,” said Josh McKenty, a co-founder of OpenStack and the CEO of Piston Cloud Computing.

“Look at hypervisors, they [VMware] have 90 percent market share. Every cloud has a hypervisor in it somewhere. VMware is in best position to make all of that work, and when we talk to end users, they all tell us they want VMware in OpenStack,” he said.

McKenty added that what is good for the overall OpenStack community in this case might not work out as well for Mirantis. We’ll see.

Performance and Maturity

Other detractors point to the relative immaturity of OpenStack and performance issues.

German company Dolphin IT Services downloaded OpenStack, gave it a test run, but then abandoned it.

“It became apparent quite fast that the product was not mature enough to be deployed productively. A lot needed to be done on our side in order for it to work correctly. There were still some features we dearly needed that were not implemented yet – or not sufficiently implemented – like billing and an appealing Web front end,” said Andreas Kunter, CEO of Dolphin IT Services.

The company instead adopted the cloud platform from startup OnApp. “[With OnApp] we could basically deploy out-of-the-box. It integrated nicely with our chosen billing platform, and allowed us to grow our business without having to pay large amounts upfront,” he said.

One of the main concerns Kunter had with OpenStack is support. “Support after deployment is often underestimated,” he said. “We know a lot about virtualization and hypervisor technology, but we are still learning while maintaining our cloud. When things go wild and you need to solve it fast, it is good to have proficient support to back you up.”

Plenty of companies, Rackspace included, intend to make money supporting OpenStack. However, it will take time to build those support teams out, and to get them up to speed on all of the ins and outs of the sprawling OpenStack project.

The other two major complaints that detractors have about OpenStack are: 1) big vendors like Cisco, HP, IBM, Intel and VMware could dominate the project in ways that won’t be beneficial to the larger community and 2) OpenStack performance isn’t yet competitive with the likes of AWS.

As for complaint one, anytime you have that many big vendors working together, people will be wary of them. Would it be better for them to simply offer an array of competing products, rather than putting their proprietary layers and services over a common core?

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Tags: open source, cloud computing, OpenStack

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