Why OpenStack Has Its Work Cut Out

This week, a relatively large group of technology companies, along with NASA, launched OpenStack, an open source projects designed to give businesses and service providers an entire, and already proven, cloud computing platform. Response has been overwhelmingly positive from project members, but neutral parties have taken a more, well, neutral tone. I’m all for openness, but when putting on my devil’s advocate hat, it’s not too difficult to make the case that OpenStack won’t create true rivals for leading cloud providers or cloud software vendors.

Why OpenStack is Great News

Presently, the scope of the OpenStack project is a distributed object store (available now) and a CPU-provisioning engine (slated for availability later this year). Assuming the provisioning engine comes to fruition, OpenStack will undoubtedly see adoption from service providers wanting to offer cloud computing, enterprises wanting to build their own internal clouds, and IT vendors looking to beef up their cloud software offerings. That alone makes for legitimate competition for Amazon Web Services, VMware, Microsoft and everyone else selling wholly proprietary cloud computing stacks. Just like everywhere else in life, competition in the cloud is a great thing.

How do we know OpenStack is legit, or that it will attract users? Because it’s based on technologies developed by Rackspace for its cloud offerings, and upon NASA’s Nebula platform. Rackspace is a solid No. 2 in the IaaS space; Nebula is built to scale across 60 million servers. The remaining partners for OpenStack cover just about every facet needed for a true cloud platform — Citrix for virtualization (although OpenStack is hypervisor-neutral), Dell for hardware, Zenoss for monitoring, FathomDB for the database, Zuora for billing, etc. If all comes together as planned, it should be a very nice solution.

Why OpenStack Won’t Likely Change the World

The idea of a network of interoperable OpenStack-based public and internal clouds is appealing, but it would require stealing business and developers from a wide variety of other proven, innovative and commercially supported offerings. The obvious competitors shouldn’t need much explanation. Cloud software competitors include VMware, Microsoft, Oracle, Enomaly and Eucalyptus Systems, among others. Cloud provider competitors include Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Google, VMware vCloud partners, GoGrid, Heroku, and the list goes on. Furthermore, Yahoo is open sourcing its internally developed cloud platform later this year.

Even within the OpenStack membership, conflicts of interest exist. How supportive can Rackspace really be when it comes to additional cloud providers coming online without cannibalizing its own cloud revenues for Cloud Servers, Cloud Files and Cloud Sites? Plus, it’s eyeing up the chance to offer Windows Azure, as well. Dell both touts and practices openness, even in terms of cloud software. It not only sells Joyent’s cloud software, it’s also an early Windows Azure Appliance partner. If Dell does offer OpenStack as an open source alternative, it will be just that — an alternative. Other partners will support the OpenStack platform, but that’s on top of existing support for AWS, VMware and other industry-leading offerings. Supporting OpenStack is one thing, but pushing it to the exclusion of other options is something else.

Is OpenStack important? Yes. Will OpenStack attract a broad community of users? Yes. Will OpenStack-based offerings and deployments gather enough market share to threaten large vendors’ and providers’ current positions? That’s not such an obvious answer.

Question of the week

How do you think OpenStack will affect current cloud leaders like AWS, VMware and Microsoft?
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