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Rackspace promises 'big name' OpenStack power shift

Open source cloud kit set for mystery advisory board

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Rackspace will help create a new advisory board for the OpenStack project, the year-old open source effort to build Amazon-like "infrastructure clouds". This board will include "big backers and enterprise users" and "open-source" thought leaders, and it will drive the overall vision of the project.

Rackspace tells The Reg that the advisory board will contain "senior people", and that it will be concerned only with strategy as opposed to "tactical delivery". It will work alongside OpenStack's existing project-oversight committee.

The advisory board will be announced in time for the next OpenStack conference and design summit, scheduled for April 26-29 in Santa Clara, California. The arrival of the leadership group will coincide with the anticipated third release of OpenStack, the installment code-named Cactus.

"We definitely anticipate [that the advisory board] will be in place prior to April's design summit," Jonathan Bryce, chairman of the OpenStack project-oversight committee and Rackspace Cloud founder, told us. He did not say what industry or customer brains Rackspace is recruiting.

The news of a governance change follows Rackspace's acquisition of Anso Labs, the tiny company that built the Nova compute fabric comprising one-half of the OpenStack project. Rackspace built the other half.

Anso designed and built the Nova compute fabric for NASA and its Nebula cloud, and the startup continues to manage Nebula for NASA. NASA open sourced Nova under an Apache Software Foundation (ASF) license, and it became OpenStack Compute, a means of serving up on-demand access to readily scalable processing power. The other main OpenStack component is Object Storage, a scalable storage platform originally built by Rackspace.

The Anso acquisition means that Rackspace now dominates the OpenStack project-oversight committee, formerly known as the architecture board. The committee has nine seats: five appointed and four elected. Before the acquisition, Rackspace controlled five seats and Anso two. Now Rackspace controls seven (four appointed).

Contacted by The Reg, OpenStack community member Cloud.com said a change of governance – such as the establishment of an advisory board – might allay concerns raised by Rackspace's Anso purchase. "There will be concerns over governance ... [but] saying 'we are going to re-evaluate the governance structure' that's a positive thing," said Cloud.com chief marketing officer Peder Ulander. He also said that Rackspace buying Anso might produce benefits for the project, pulling Anso closer to OpenStack.

It was the promise of openness and multi-vendor participation that fueled OpenStack's rapid growth. The group has expanded from two founders last year – Rackspace and NASA – to more than 40 organizations, including Microsoft, Dell, Cisco, and Canonical.

The project arose in part because NASA had problems with the governance of Eucalyptus, another open source project designed to mimic Amazon's EC2 inside private data centers. With Eucalyptus, a single company offers commercial services around the platform while also overseeing the open source project. That company is Eucalyptus Systems, whose chief technology officer is Rich Wolski, founder of the project.

NASA originally built Nebula atop Eucalyptus, but the platform didn't scale as well as it would have liked, and when it tried to add patches that would improve scaling, they were rejected by the project's overseers. According to NASA CTO Chris Kemp, they were rejected because they conflicted with Eucalyptus Systems' for-pay enterprise version of the platform. But Eucalyptus Systems chief executive Marten Mickos takes a different view of the whole incident.

Rackspace president and cloud strategy officer Lew Moorman said that concerns over his company's growing control are reasonable, but he added that OpenStack won't go anywhere if Rackspace ends up as a dictator. That said, Rackspace does hope to offer commercial products and services around OpenStack that will inevitably compete with those of other members of the project.

Moorman said that Rackspace is "working through" how it might offer support services to organizations deploying OpenStack, and Rackspace might sell Cloudkick monitoring and management software to OpenStack users.

He denied that Rackspace bought Anso to develop a Rackspace-only version of OpenStack. Control was probably never Rackspace's actual goal. Rackspace likely bought Anso to accelerate work on the Nova compute fabric, which lags the storage part of OpenStack – meaning that Rackspace won't be able to offer OpenStack products and services as soon as it would like.

For example, the OpenStack compute fabric still lacks a tested user interface or the ability to drive and configure networking components between flat and virtual networking. Rackspace's Bryce said that while the compute fabric has been used at NASA and can be deployed inside the data center, there are "other, nice-to-haves" – especially in networking – that are needed by enterprises looking to adopt OpenStack.

"The things missing from our perspective are if you want to operate at scale," Bryce said. "We and the Anso guys can get away with it because we have written a lot of the software - that's what we need to clean up to make it widely available for distribution."

Moorman told The Reg that OpenStack's compute half is not yet "service provider ready," but added that this an urgent matter that he expects to be solved this spring. ®

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