Is VMware OpenStack an embrace of open source — or an attempt to extinguish it?

VMworld 2014

Open source–oriented developers tend to view proprietary software — and the companies that make it — with suspicion, if not outright disdain. That seems particularly true of VMware, which this week jumped into the fray with its VMware-Integrated OpenStack, now in beta and expected to be on the market in the first half of 2015.

The fact that the VMworld 2014 press release announcing the news doesn’t mention OpenStack in the headline says a lot. Critics hold that VMware wants to capitalize on the interest in OpenStack without necessarily giving it a ton more credence. OpenStack, after all, launched at least in part as an open-source cloud framework by parties that didn’t want to see VMware’s server virtualization dominance carry over into cloud. When VMware joined the Openstack foundation two years ago, reaction among the OpenStack community was mixed at best. And reading between the lines, VMware itself still seems conflicted about OpenStack.

Uneasy alliance

The VMware Integrated OpenStack play is intended to portray OpenStack as something that plays nicely with VMware’s NSX software-defined networking and VSAN storage virtualization, as well as its bread-and-butter vSphere virtualization and vCenter management stack.

While VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger called VMware’s OpenStack “an easy, cost-effective way to move to OpenStack,” a reasonable person might conclude that VMware’s self-interest lies in pulling prospective OpenStack customers into VMware rather than seeing VMware customers move to OpenStack. OpenStack is seen as a less expensive solution for cloud orchestration in terms of software and support, but it still requires more hands-on blocking and tackling to get it to work.

VMWare is right that if you pay near zero for software and not a lot for support, but still need a dozen engineers to get your OpenStack private cloud running, the cost savings really don’t add up. But VMware is still seen as a higher-cost and proprietary solution.

Bringing OpenStack into the V-fold: Who benefits?

VMware’s decision to bring OpenStack into the fold and gussy it up for enterprise use is smart — it’s just really late. An array of other vendors —  Red Hat, HP, IBM and others — are all dedicated to making OpenStack more easily consumable for big companies. Heck, Red Hat even hired Alessandro Perilli, who as a Gartner analyst famously pointed out how hard it was to sell OpenStack into the enterprise, to help fix that perception and recently announced an OpenStack-based software appliance to ease implementations.

OpenStack die-hards look at what VMware announced and, instead of a warm embrace, see more of a vintage Microsoft-style “embrace, extend and extinguish” strategy.

Even if that is the case, I’m not sure it matters. At this point, OpenStack is out there and has won the marketing wars in private cloud. As Battery Ventures technical fellow Adrian Cockcroft pointed out at Structure 2014, vendors from IBM to Red Hat have already co-opted the OpenStack branding.

“The marketing war for CIO mindshare has been won,” Cockcroft said. “They’ll buy anything as long as it’s called OpenStack,” he said. VMware Integrated OpenStack is just one more proof point of that.


Feature photo by Flickr user Akihito Fujii

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