Why is OpenStack adoption slower in Europe?

The vendor-led OpenStack convoy is gathering pace. As Chris Kemp, NASA’s former CTO and now the head of OpenStack-based appliance firm Nebula, laid it out today at Cloud Expo Europe in London, the infrastructure-as-a-service project has more than half a million downloads and can count thousands of members from more than 850 companies in 88 countries.

Chinese adoption of OpenStack is growing particularly quickly, and the United States and India are doing well too, he said. But Europe? Not so much — yet.

Why is that? Well, one of the answers is entirely predictable: Europe is just a bit behind the curve when it comes to cloud adoption.

“My sense that there’s probably a bit more of a conservative attitude towards change and adoption of new technology here,” Kemp told me. “If you look at folks that are leading IT at a lot of America’s largest companies, there’s a lot of competition, a lot of folks encouraging people to take risks. We’re seeing more people in U.S. companies understand how to make apps work in a very reliable way, even on unreliable infrastructure, because the big internet companies there haven’t had a choice.

“There’s a cultural desire here to have more control over infrastructure. I think private cloud will be bigger in Europe than in the U.S. in the medium term.”

But that’s not the only reason. There’s another factor that seems backward given the first: it appears OpenStack, just a couple of years old, is feeling the effects of being a relative latecomer to this particular market.

“It’s a function of some of the earlier cloud technologies getting an earlier start here,” Kemp said. “Eucalyptus made an early run at Europe, and then there’s the OpenNebula project.”

Marten Mickos Eucalyptus Systems Chris Kemp OpenStack Sameer Dholakia Citrix Structure 2012
(L to R) Jo Maitland, GigaOM; Chris Kemp, CEO Nebula and co-founder, OpenStack; Sameer Dholakia, Group VP and GM, Citrix; Marten Mickos, CEO, Eucalyptus Systems
(c)2012 Pinar Ozger [email protected]

That’s not to say Kemp, who’s naturally very bullish on OpenStack, thinks the market isn’t ripe for takeover. Particularly regarding OpenNebula, the one big European contender in this space, he was pretty scornful of that rival’s attempt to target the enterprise by adding an open-source service layer on top of its core product.

“You want interoperability, portability and a large ecosystem of tools that all work together at the end of the day – that’s especially what enterprises want,” he said. “The world doesn’t have enough attention for five cloud ecosystems. If you’re EMC or NetApp, are they working on an OpenNebula driver? Where are the OpenNebula conferences? If it’s not there, they’ve already lost this round.”

But let’s pull back here and consider whether this rivalry really matters. To a certain extent, according to cloud strategy researcher Simon Wardley, it doesn’t – he sees deeper issues facing the putative cloud service provider industry in Europe.

“The issues about public or private, or which stack to adopt, are all whats, hows and whens. There’s not enough of the why,” he told me. “These are implementation details and they are, to me, secondary to strategy.”

“In Silicon Valley there’s a lot more thinking about how you manipulate the value chain to compete. For example, if I’m a bank, should I be providing banking as a cloud? It’s that level of strategic play which is important. Most people [in Europe] are thinking about using the cloud because everyone else is doing it: they’re not thinking strategically about using IT as a weapon against others.”