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There’s a new open source cloud in town. Meet Apache CloudStack

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It looks like OpenStack won’t have the open-source cloud spotlight to itself anymore. Citrix Systems (s ctxs) has released its CloudStack software (which it obtained via its acquisition of last year) to the Apache Software Foundation, creating a competitive option to the OpenStack project of which Citrix was an early member. And while the move is ultimately part of Citrix’s corporate battle against VMware (s vmw) on the cloud-software front, it’s also very much a comment on the state of OpenStack.

OpenStack is the open source cloud-computing project founded by Rackspace and NASA in July 2010. It has since attracted dozens of high-profile contributors and users. Citrix was among the first users to sign on, followed by the likes of Cisco (c csco), HP (s hpq), Dell (s dell), AT&T (s T) and others. The goal of OpenStack is to provide a set of common building blocks for building an ecosystem of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) public clouds that can compete with leaders such as Amazon Web Services (s amzn) and with proprietary private-cloud software like that sold by VMware and Microsoft (s msft).

CloudStack is for real

Assuming it gets traction with developers, CloudStack should present a formidable competitor for primary targets OpenStack and VMware, as well as fellow open-source cloud vendor Eucalyptus. The software already claims thousands of private IaaS clouds running atop it, including large production clouds at Zynga (s znga), Bechtel and GoDaddy. Those big names help explain why Citrix paid more than $200 million for in July.

And while the software was always open source — Peder Ulander, vice president of marketing in Citrix’s Cloud Platforms Group, claims more than 30,000 members in its online community — making CloudStack an Apache project is very important. OpenStack has been dogged by concerns over its Rackspace-heavy governance model since its inception, resulting in the project creating last October the independent OpenStack Foundation to take over project management. Apache, of course, is a well-respected open source foundation responsible for everything from the eponymous Apache HTTP Server to Hadoop.

OpenStack, for what it’s worth, actually uses the Apache open source license. It’s forthcoming Essex release, I’m told, includes contributions from more than 200 developers across 55 companies.

Ulander said CloudStack will launch with about 30 technology partners, many of which are already involved with OpenStack. “I expected a good reaction,” he said. “I didn’t expect [the] amazing reaction [we received].”

Insurmountable differences

According to Sameer Dholakia, vice president and general manager of the Cloud Platforms Group at Citrix, the decision to make CloudStack an Apache project wasn’t easy, but was necessary. “Our very explicit public statement had been that we were going to try and build atop the OpenStack platform,” he told me during a recent call. “… [But] we can’t afford to wait a year or two for the technical maturation process that needs to happen [in order to integrate CloudStack and OpenStack].”

Citrix tried to work with OpenStack, he said — it spent the better part of a 2011 trying to do that — but CloudStack software was 12 to 24 months ahead of OpenStack in terms of development, and the gap just wasn’t closing fast enough. OpenStack just isn’t stable enough for many customers wanting to run production clouds. “[We were] left with no choice but to double down [and pursue Apache CloudStack],” Dholakia said.

He also noted the difference in viewpoint between Citrix and OpenStack when it comes to the API layer. While OpenStack is pushing its own API, Dholakia called it “a tall and unnecessary order” to build another API when the Amazon Web Services API has become a de facto standard already.

Ulander suggested that Citrix will actually push for a tighter relationship with Amazon. The API-licensing agreement AWS entered into with Eucalyptus last month was non-exclusive, “and we’ll absolutely work to take advantage of that,” Ulander said.

OpenStack isn’t impressed

I spoke with one member of the OpenStack board who was less than impressed when he heard about Citrix’s decision, saying a lot of what he has heard “rings a little false.” Some of the technical gaps Dholakia cited had been raised, he said, but it was difficult to get specific details despite actually spending days working with Citrix to integrate the two platforms.

He doesn’t find the AWS compatibility too compelling, either, especially considering that OpenStack includes API compatibility with both Amazon EC2 and S3 and has since the beginning. And despite rumors of their demise, the forthcoming OpenStack Essex code release includes more than a hundred improvements to those APIs.

But OpenStack always wanted to be something more. “Anyone can take a piece of software, slap an API on it and build a clone,” he said, but OpenStack  is more complex by design. That might mean it’s more difficult to deploy (which is where OpenStack-based startups such as Piston Cloud Computing (see disclosure) and Nebula come in), but it also enables advanced networking capabilities and the ability to use OpenStack for complicated use cases such as high-performance computing.

And both projects share a common purpose of eating into VMware’s sizable mindshare lead in the world of cloud software. “I don’t know why we don’t do that together,” he said.

Disclosure: Piston is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

6 Responses to “There’s a new open source cloud in town. Meet Apache CloudStack”

  1. Tim Wessels

    Having more rather fewer cloud building stacks is a good thing. Citrix had to resolve their ownership of CloudStack and their participation in OpenStack. They brokered a solution to the ownership issue by handing governance over to the Apache Foundation with the hope that the Apache Foundation developer community might become interested in writing code for CloudStack. Citrix also needed a quicker way to compete with VMware and possibly Eucalyptus in the market for building public/private clouds. If you take their comments at face value, CloudStack was the proper alternative for them to choose, which would necessarily reduce their participation in OpenStack. OpenStack has a lot of momentum and lots of support. Citrix’s focus on CloudStack is not going to materially affect OpenStack. And if Citrix’s decision works out well for CloudStack, everyone will have more than one alternative for building public/private clouds. In the long term, every surviving cloud stack will have to be successful in terms of architecture, ecosystem and API support.

  2. CloudStack was already a commercial opensource project. This announcement is about Critix shedding responsibility for a codebase it doesn’t need to maintain. I’m really having trouble seeing what this says about OpenStack in any way. OpenStack already supports the AWS APIs as well as its own. Eucalyptus copied the AWS APIs from day 1. Nobody can license the Amazon APIs, and nobody will.

  3. Boris Renski

    I see this clearly as a reactive move to a) their failure to become a dominant player in the OpenStack community (a testament to true vendor independence of the project BTW); b) pressures to salvage a 200M acquisition in a meaningful way.

    In general, I perceive CloudStack, as Citrix’s skunk works open source cloud project from day one that got ultimately derailed and screwed up by OpenStack community momentum. founder and CEO – Sheng Liang – was also the founder and CTO of Teros Networks, a Web security company that was acquired by the very same Citrix just a few years before was founded. Acquisition by Citrix was the key part of the business plan that helped them raise their $17 million in VC money. After OpenStack launch, things got very confusing for them, they made some bad decisions and now ultimately dumped the project to the Apache foundation in hopes that it will make a difference.

    They have already announced cloud stack would be open source before, yet have received zero outside contributions to date. At this point Citrix has a spotty history when it comes to open source. Open source is built on trust, and they are hard to trust right now. Having burning bridges at their last two communities (xen / Linux and now OpenStack), it is going to be big challenge for them to revive CloudStack from its present semi-dead state.

    • Eirikur Hrafnsson

      Actually GreenQloud e.g. wrote chunks of the AWS compatibility layer (CloudBridge) so you are wrong on at least the community contributions part. Then judging on a successful funding and exit strategy seems pretty cynical.

      Everyone should welcome the competition in this space as it will benefit all users in the future. Citrix didn’t dump anything on the Apache foundation and implying that deminishes the massive amount of work and care people have put into CloudStack for the last few years.

      Anyway if you don’t trust Citrix you should be happy that the project now belongs to Apache. Cloudstack and Openstack both have their strengths and my guess is that their communities will be the ones to start merging or using both of the projects to their advantage.

      Eirikur, CEO GreenQloud

  4. Randy Bias

    It’s not clear that CloudStack has any more right to claim AWS compatibility than any other stack. Eucalyptus, CloudStack, and OpenStack all has AWS compatible APIs. All of them have a deficit in true AWS architectural compatibility.

    It’s also a lot of hand-waving to claim that CloudStack is more mature. As the builder of one of CloudStack’s top 3 clouds, KT (Korea Telecom), I would say that CloudStack is about on parity with core functionality, ahead on billing and UI, and behind on community involvement as an open source project.

  5. Joe Arnold

    Deciding to open source under the Apache 2 license is a natural step for CloudStack. While a version of CloudStack has been available under the GPL, it was never a very active community. For CloudStack to succeed as an open source project, it needs a significant engagement from its community, which does not come overnight from just changing the licensing terms. Building a community takes time, effort and engagement.

    So what may this mean for the OpenStack projects? For the OpenStack project as a whole, which has some overlap with CloudStack, developers and organizations now have one more open source alternative to consider. Organizations select combinations of technology that meet their particular requirements, which will differ by use-case and industry. While the OpenStack project has made tremendous progress – both on the underlying technology and by creating a huge ecosystem of developers and contributors, there will be use-cases where CloudStack may be an option to consider. Ultimately, end-users and developers will decide which they prefer.

    For CloudStack to succeed as an open source project, it needs a significant engagement from its community, which does not come overnight from just changing the licensing terms. Building a community takes time, effort and engagement.