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Summary:

OpenStack has attracted tremendous developer and partner support since launching a year ago. But according to Netflix’s chief cloud architect, Adrian Cockcroft, the open-source cloud project has its work cut out for it if it hopes to attract major clients like Netflix.

Werner Vogels - CTO, Amazon.com - Structure 2011

OpenStack, a rival to Amazon’s cloud platform, has attracted tremendous developer and partner support since being launched a year ago, with big names like Microsoft, HP, Cisco, Citrix and Dell on board. But for it to win over huge clients like Netflix and convince them to switch over from Amazon Web Services, OpenStack has its work cut out for it. Or at least that’s what Netflix Cloud Architect Adrian Cockcroft believes, based on a blog post published on his personal blog.

Netflix has long been a proponent of the power of cloud computing, and it has leveraged Amazon Web Services to power its operations. Rather than build out its own infrastructure, it was able to rely on Amazon to reach scale and focus on its own streaming operations. But after attending an OpenStack meeting, Cockcroft finds very little reason to consider switching to an open-source alternative.

There are many reasons why Cockcroft believes OpenStack will have challenges over the coming years. For one thing, he largely debunks the theory that a large industry-wide open-source project will be able to compete with what Amazon has already built:

Some of the proponents of OpenStack argue that because it’s an open source community project it will win in the end. I disagree, the most successful open source projects I can think of have a strong individual leader who spends a lot of time saying no to keep the project on track. Some of the least successful are large multi-vendor industry consortiums.

Due to the number of cooks in the kitchen, Cockcroft questions the ability of OpenStack to evolve quickly enough to compete. The more members are involved, the more difficult it is to find consensus and move a project forward:

The problem with a consortium is that it is hard to get it to agree on anything, and Brooks law applies (The Mythical Man-Month — adding resources to a late software project makes it later). While it seems obvious that adding more members to OpenStack is a good thing, in practice, it will slow the project down.

And while OpenStack members refine the project, Amazon is laser-focused and just keeps trucking along:

AWS is dominant, growing its feature set and installed capacity very fast. Every month that passes, AWS is refining and extending its products to meet real customer needs. Measured by the reserved IP address ranges used by its instances AWS has more than doubled in the last year and now has over 800,000 IP addresses assigned to its regions worldwide.

Altogether, Cockcroft believes that it could be years before OpenStack grows up enough to be a viable alternative to AWS. At the same time, given the time and resources that Netflix has already committed to AWS, it will be looking for another firm to help OpenStack grow and prove itself before it will be willing to jump ship.

I haven’t yet seen a viable alternative to AWS, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to see one. My guess is that in about two to three years from now there may be a credible alternative. Netflix has already spent a lot of time helping AWS scale as we figured out our architecture, we don’t want to do that again, so I’m also waiting for someone else (another large end-user) to kick the tires and prove that an alternative works.

  1. Seems like these cloud systems would be the sort of thing that might let Netflix eat itself. Take it out further — if all media goes to streaming, we’re back to having files on a server — or cloud. Well, if that is what “distribution” is, then what does a website that sells access to media become? Thus, Netflix is in the same boat with Amazon on “books”. If people are reading text from the web, and maybe from an e-book, why can’t the content owner simply put it up in the same cloud, and charge people money directly?

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