OpenStack cloud fluffer growing faster than Linux

Two years in, and still not quite a cloud operating system

Remote control for virtualized desktops

Analysis The OpenStack cloud controller, launched two years ago to the day by techies at NASA Ames Research Center and Rackspace Hosting, has come a long way in its infancy.

With Hewlett-Packard and Rackspace ramping up clouds based on the current "Essex" release, OpenStack is only just learning to walk. But it won't be long before companies looking to deploy private clouds – or to sell them as a service – will not only be looking for OpenStack to run, but to run well, run fast, and run networking in addition to compute and storage.

It's a lot to ask of a two-year-old, but OpenStack has a lot of mentors and advisors. If the OpenStack Foundation does what it is supposed to do, then it will be a meritocracy, not dominated by Rackspace, that will allow some of the best minds in the world to perfect a cloud operating system.

They may call it by different names, but the data center is the new server and a cloud operating system is exactly what Citrix Systems, Microsoft, Red Hat, and VMware have been seeking to build with their various software stacks.

The idea is to turn static physical hardware into malleable virtual hardware at the compute, storage, and network layers, allowing it to be programmatically controlled. Applications and their required software underpinnings can be puffed up in an instance and shuffled around inside a private cloud, or pushed out to a public cloud as workloads and economics dictate.

OpenStack logo

OpenStack started out two years ago as the marriage of the Nova compute controller that NASA developed for its internal Nebula cloud and the Swift storage controller and Ozone compute controller that Rackspace was working on for its own internal use. Neither NASA nor Rackspace wanted to be in the software business, but both felt compelled by the limitations of then-current cloud fabrics to throw both programmers and money at the problem.

The rocket computer scientists at NASA started working on Nova because of their frustration with the quasi-proprietary nature of the Eucalyptus cloud controller, which was maintained mostly by Eucalyptus Systems.

Rackspace wanted to transform itself from a simple hosting provider to a cloud provider, so it started work on cloudy storage under its Mosso subsidiary back in 2006. That effort got beefed up when Rackspace acquired Jungle Disk in October 2008, on the same day that it bought Slicehost, which had created its own compute cloud biz.

The Mosso cloud storage and Jungle Disk access code morphed into the Swift storage controller, which Rackspace currently uses in production. The Ozone compute controller, based on ideas from Slicehost, was underway when the NASA techies and the Rackspace techies decided to pool their efforts and at the same time foster an open source community to drive development of an alternative cloud control freak.

At the time, Eucalyptus was the early favorite as an alternative to VMware's "virtual data center operating system." It was embracing multiple hypervisors and virtual machine images to gain leverage over VMware and what would eventually become vSphere and vCloud Director. Canonical, the commercial entity behind Ubuntu Linux, embraced Eucalyptus and embedded it inside of its distro, and server makers fell all over themselves saying they were going to build Eucalyptus clouds.

Everyone talks about OpenStack now. That is, unless they are talking about CloudStack, the alternative now championed by Citrix Systems. Citrix left the OpenStack community (more or less) and open sourced CloudStack under an Apache license back in April. Citrix and the rest of the OpenStack community have a fundamental difference of opinion that cannot be resolved.

OpenStack, which is more or less driven by Rackspace at this point, wants to build a cloud fabric that has its own set of APIs. Citrix and the CloudStack community want to create an open source fabric that adheres to the API sets created by Amazon for its eponymous Web Services cloud. You can imagine that Rackspace would rather crawl through 500 miles of the west Texas desert than kowtow to Amazon, which pretty much rules the public cloud these days.

OpenStack ramps faster than Linux

Since OpenStack launched two years ago, a flurry of IT vendors and independents have rallied to its banner. Jim Curry, general manager of the Cloud Builders program at Rackspace and the man who spearheads the OpenStack efforts from inside Rackspace, says that the enthusiasm building around OpenStack rivals that of Linux in its early days.

Applied Micro X-Gene ARM block diagram

OpenStack: If it were only as easy as this picture makes it seem (click to enlarge)

Curry did a little math, and he tells El Reg that it took 828 weeks to get 180 companies contributing code to the Linux kernel, whereas OpenStack had lined up contributors from 166 companies in 84 weeks. In terms of actual code commits, Linux had 200 contributors by week 615 of its existence, while OpenStack had 206 contributors by week 84.

To show you how developer interest has grown, there were 75 people in attendance at the first OpenStack Design Summit in July 2010. There were more than 1,600 people at the event in April when the "Essex" release was launched.

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