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Citrix kicks down door, breaks up OpenStack cloud party

CloudStack's anti-Amazon, Rackspace-free Apache play

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Open ... and Shut Two years ago, Rackspace went after Amazon in a big way, launching an open-source cloud initiative called OpenStack. Since that time, more than 150 companies have signed up to the anti-Amazon party. Last week, however, one big participant decided to leave OpenStack to create an after-party that by many accounts fixes a slew of problems inherent in OpenStack's design-by-committee approach.

As reported here, Citrix has abandoned OpenStack and launched its own CloudStack cloud platform as part of the Apache Software Foundation.

Citrix, in other words, is finally learning to play the open-source game, and OpenStack may suffer significantly because of it.

OpenStack's problems are self-inflicted. Despite its impressive community support - everyone wants to get on a train that promises to blunt Amazon's market power - in two years OpenStack has failed to piece together a robust platform that big companies are willing to trust in serious production. This may change now that IBM and Red Hat are getting involved, but it's hard to see how OpenStack's development problems will get better, not worse, with more members.

Projects like Linux work because, while they comprise large numbers of committers, there is a clear line of authority, and that authority isn't wielded by any particular company. In the case of OpenStack, its leader is Rackspace. As cloud luminary Sam Johnston writes,

This differs sharply from Eclipse, for example, where the project founders like IBM aren't mentioned at all. While there are successful open-source companies who control communities, there are precious few examples of vibrant open-source communities that are run by a single vendor.

One big reason is trust. In the case of OpenStack, I know and like the Rackspace executives involved. But not everyone feels the same about Rackspace's OpenStack "agenda", as Christian Reilly, another noted cloud luminary, blogs and tweets:

One aspect of that agenda is a shift away from full API compatibility with Amazon's API, which is one of CloudStack's major selling points, and one of the big reasons it is striking off on its own. Rackspace could easily have followed this furrow, first plowed by Eucalyptus and VMops/Cloud.com/Citrix, but doing so would effectively cede the API battle to its bitter enemy, Amazon.

For some time, Citrix's CloudStack has credibly claimed superior technology and large-scale deployments of its technology (Zynga, anyone?). I've heard this claim substantiated by some of the biggest brands supporting OpenStack, but because of CloudStack's dubious open-source credentials, no one but Citrix was willing to bet their business on CloudStack.

This may change, now that CloudStack will be part of the Apache Software Foundation. While OpenStack comes with an Apache license, this is nowhere near the same thing as being an ASF project, as Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady points out:

Citrix was very careful to put the Apache Software Foundation front and center in their announcement. This does two things. First, it allows them to benefit from the halo effect of the Apache brand and the goodwill of becoming a sponsor. Second, it differentiates them from two of the more visible alternative open source cloud stacks. Eucalyptus is primarily a single vendor initiative, much as MySQL once was. OpenStack is developed by a broader community of participants, and is being transitioned to a foundation. But that process has not been without its growing pains, with one of the co-founders questioning the governance structure.

None of which is to suggest that CloudStack will have smooth sailing from here. It may have better technology, and it may find the ASF's blessing can overcome its proprietary past, but there is a lot of work to do to foster a community around CloudStack. Victory is by no means assured.

But for a growing population of people looking for an alternative platform upon which to build clouds that integrate well with Amazon's cloud, Apache-blessed CloudStack may be just what they've wanted. ®

Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Nodeable, offering systems management for managing and analysing cloud-based data. He was formerly SVP of biz dev at HTML5 start-up Strobe and chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfresco's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears three times a week on The Register.

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