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Summary:

Amid all the OpenStack news this week, there is a feeling in some quarters that two years after Rackspace and NASA launched this attempt to counter Amazon Web Services and VMware, it may be too late for the effort to take hold.

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There’s been a lot of news about OpenStack recently — notably a conference dedicated to the open-source cloud-computing platform this week and IBM and Red Hat  signing on to the effort. And yet there is a feeling in some quarters that  it may be too late for the project to take hold.

Two years after Rackspace and NASA launched OpenStack in part to counter Amazon Web Services, AWS keeps getting bigger and broader — with new, increasingly enterprise-focused services coming out all the time. There also is fear — even among some OpenStack proponents — that too many cooks might spoil the effort. Sure OpenStack could become the “Linux of the cloud,” but it could also get fragmented as each vendor adds its own secret sauce to the OpenStack underpinnings. The downside scenario is that OpenStack ends up more like Unix than Linux.

Taking on AWS and VMware isn’t easy

AWS clearly took note of OpenStack ambitions to take on public, private and hybrid clouds, making a series of moves to make AWS more palatable to businesses that are wary of putting their data and applications into a shared public cloud. AWS’s API alliance with Eucalyptus — an open source private-cloud player that competes with OpenStack — is one example. AWS’s Storage Gateway and Simple Workflow Services are two others

Robert Shear, president of Greystone Solutions, a Boston development shop, is a big AWS user and sees no reason to change that. “Maybe OpenStack will be the ‘Linux of the cloud’ but every vendor playing catch-up is in favor of open standards. The reality is that each vendor selection is a commitment. The nature of the AWS stack is that the customer has a wide range of choices when deciding portability versus functional capacity. And, with AWS, the benefits of scale and cost-leadership are palpable and immediate,” Shear said via email.

VMware is another target for many of the OpenStack players, who hope to use the cloud platform to prevent the virtualization giant from replicating the power it holds in server rooms to the cloud at large. Hewlett-Packard’s new OpenStack-based public cloud relies heavily on KVM virtualization, for example.

And many see Citrix’ CloudStack move — the former OpenStack backer recently launched its own competitive project  within the Apache Software Foundation — as being motivated by Citrix’s desire to push Xen as the virtualization of choice in the cloud. Citrix points to slow OpenStack development and an unwillingness to embrace the AWS APIs as reasons for its decision to launch the competitive effort, but says it’s far more concerned with competing against VMware than with OpenStack.

The Amazon API quandary

Whether you think OpenStack is done before it gets started also depends on whether you think AWS’s APIs are the be-all and end-all of cloud computing. There is healthy debate on that topic. Some in the OpenStack camp, including Rackspace, don’t think Amazon API support is the name of the game. In an interview last week, Rackspace CTO John Engates said Rackspace’s OpenStack implementation does not support the AWS API set nor should it.

“We don’t need to be compatible with the AWS APIs,” he said. “OpenStack itself does have some compatibility with the Amazon APIs but Rackspace is not exposing that compatibility in its public cloud … mapping to AWS APIs restricts innovation. If you have to wait for Amazon and reverse engineer [what it does], where’s the innovation? We want to spur innovation.”

Still, even those interested in OpenStack wonder how it is that Rackspace is still not offering a production version of the platform. As Keith Townshend commented on a GigaOM story on the Rackspace implementation: “After 2 years in the making, you would think they [would] have a product ready for beta. This market will not sit back and wait for the ‘good guys.” He later clarified: “I don’t think it’s too late, but it is late … Most are late including CloudStack. If I needed a solution today, what are my real options? I know it’s not vaporware but it feels like it.”

Randy Bias, CTO of Cloudscaling, another OpenStack player, said the talk about production or not production is a tempest in a teapot. For him, a production system is one that is up and running with customers’ applications even if it is in “beta” or “trial phase.”  If defined that way, he would characterize HP’s existing cloud, AT&T’s private OpenStack-based cloud as well as Internap and other OpenStack implementations, as being in production, Bias said via email.

Enterprise cloud inertia helps Openstack

The fact that many businesses are still kicking the tires on cloud plays to OpenStack’s favor. For some companies, the specter of one big player — AWS — dominating key cloud functionality and services is disturbing. They weren’t wild about Microsoft’s dominance on the desktop and they certainly don’t want to see that situation replicated in the cloud.

OpenStack players are doing their best to play on that fear. This week, Rackspace CEO Lanham Napier told CRN that “Amazon’s proprietary system cultivates customer lock-in.”

All this means is that there’s still a window for OpenStack to succeed — if the various parties get their clouds out in good shape and don’t fracture the code base.

OpenStack “definitely still has an opportunity because so much of the market hasn’t moved [yet],” said Forrester VP and Principal Analyst James Staten. And, he notes, the market wants open source options just as it wanted an open-source alternative to Microsoft Windows. “While [OpenStack] may still not be ready for production they are definitely getting closer,” Staten said.

The problem is, he added, OpenStack’s perceived tardiness “leaves open a door Eucalyptus and Citrix will be more than happy to drive their trucks through.”


Photo courtesy of Flickr user Earls37a

  1. Of course Rackspace cries lockin from AWS and won’t support the APIs. They want the #1 spot!

    OpenStack is MUCH more than just Rackspace. OpenStack supports Amazon APIs and there is an exploding ecosystem of providers, vendors and integrators appearing that will drive OpenStack towards reaching its potential.

    GigaOm seems to often refer interchangeably to Rackspace and OpenStack. That is simply not the whole story.

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    1. The story points out that OpenStack works w/ AWS APIs but Rackspace’s implementation does not. It also points out that sometimes the more is not the merrier when it comes to multi-vendor collaboration.

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      1. Yes, I did notice the quoted Rackspace exec speaking of “some compatibility” with AWS. Amazon API compatibility was one of the main goals of the OpenStack project from day one.

        No offense intended, but between seeing terms like “Rackspace OpenStack” in GigaOm and the title of the article asking about the project arriving “too late”, I was curious as to what is real and what is sensationalism.

        As for the vendor landscape… it is getting fairly crowded. Perhaps the ideal offering would include an integrated, turnkey OpenStack system solution.

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  2. Reblogged this on Virtualized Geek and commented:
    Great post and not just because you quoted me. As some one who works in the now I have to help organizations decide which direction to go for cloud providers. The cloud manager is, I believe the most critical component of the solution.

    Companies have to make long term decisions on what API`s to build their projects around. Computer, storage and network are all commodities that Rackspace, HP, DELL and Amazon can all provide. What`s critical is the API I design my application to use. All these companies have proven they can provide great hosting services. How many have a proven track record for providing API`s to their cloud offering?

    I hope this spurs great conversation. Well done.

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  3. 166 companies and 3029 people “contributing” to openstack. What do you expect? Great concept but that’s a lot of opinions to manage.

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  4. Never Too Late Wednesday, April 18, 2012

    This article is more than a little ridiculous. It’s way to early to declare anyone “too late” to the cloud. OpenStack has had impressive traction and there’s obvious demand for it. Rackspace has recently announced its public cloud “gen 2″ that’s OpenStack powered. That means the second largest public cloud runs OpenStack now. Too late? Things are just getting started.

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  5. This is not a zero sum game, and to imply that is late to the game is premature. Private clouds in enterprises are as good as non-existent at the moment…and will explode as the OpenStack ecosystem is going to demonstrate. Just wait and see…if you have the patience to :-)

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  6. The guy at Forrester is correct. This article is just noise in the mean time. People’s sense of time is warped. This is just the early days of a multi-decadal paradigm shift. If the Keith Townsend’s of the world are stating “its too late” with a view of two years, then their sense of time is warped. Just look at what Steve Jobs said (quoted by Om’s article the other day about the lost tapes) that it takes 5 years maybe 6 or 7 just to have some sort of impact. Please people. If you need your quick fix then go buy an iPad and then support your addictive personalities by hoarding apps (an app a day is like a puff on a cigarette).

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    1. Eddie the question is what are my options today. Not what are the options 5 years from now. What good does Openstack, CloudStack WhatEverStack do me today when I have real business needs today?

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  7. IE had 90%+ of marketshare. Firefox, Safari and Chrome are too late! Amazon has a 7-year lead (doing this since 2005), but frankly is Google, Microsoft, HP, IBM and other biggies going to let Amazon do them like it did to Best Buy?

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  8. Recent studies have shown that most Business want to go to Platform As A Service. Frankly the early adopters of IaaS via Amazon or Private OpenStack have found that consolidating on servers with VMs doesn’t really save much money and frankly adds the complexity, patch management and real system management, not server/VM management. Remember “REAL” business systems are running in these VMs and still need to be managed, tuned, secured. Moving them to a cloud doesn’t make that easier. What makes everything easier for the corporate world is Platform As A Service Clouds. Almost nobody is doing that, but maybe Oracle who is launching something shortly. PaaS is way early but it’s where everyone wants to go. OpenStack and AWS don’t do PAAS they just to IAAS. So where will everybody be when the world wants SAAS and PAAS and the IAAS providers are just running dev and test and demo environments but the big systems in the enterprise are running on Private or Public PAAS?

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    1. I wouldn’t say no one is doing PaaS. Amazon offers a pretty robust PaaS. You can also build an entire CRM on Salesforce. But I do agree with you. My experience has been that IaaS is a great approach to gain comfort with cloud computing but the value is in PaaS.

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