I just returned from full days at the OpenStack conference and analyst day in San Francisco. For full transparency, I’ve been somewhat skeptical about the size of the OpenStack movement and the crippling effect of too many players and the competitive nature of those involved for moving the initiative forward. Perhaps some of this comes from me having little to no open source background. Perhaps I am right. Perhaps I am wrong.
I walk away from this week being convinced of one thing. Those involved in OpenStack are “all-in”. And only a few key industry players are absent (VMware, Microsoft, Amazon, Oracle, Citrix)…but it is pretty obvious why each of those players would not be involved. To be accurate, Citrix is still minimally involved.
But let’s look at some of those who are committed and were very vocal at the conference. Rackspace, HP, IBM, Red Hat, Intel, Dell, Cisco, AT&T, Canonical, SUSE, Nebula, and MANY others (165+), too many to name them all. My apologies.
Those listed above are some heavy pillars in the IT industry, and more importantly the open source world. We are talking about companies that have significant open source experience and wisdom. As mentors and industry luminaries have taught me, the organization of the open source foundation is more key than anything else in a movement like this. Citrix is attempting to make this exact point by moving CloudStack to the Apache Software Foundation (the most proven such foundation). Is it a concern that OpenStack did not go there first? Maybe. But the currently forming OpenStack Foundation is making key progress and apparently has looked extensively at both the ASF and Eclipse in order to build a foundation with the best aspects of other open source foundations. The emerging governance model, structure, leadership, and process is coming together. Q3, 2012 is the goal to have the foundation in place. If OpenStack meets that objective and is successful, there may be no stopping OpenStack.
But are there still too many companies involved? Probably, but that may also shake itself out. Companies will come and go. However, I no longer consider the size as a threat to destroy the initiative. When you consider the complexity of a cloud stack (not to be confused with Citrix’s CloudStack), you realize how intricate and expansive it really is. It is not as though every company involved is participating in every OpenStack project. Nova, the compute core project has perhaps the most involvement, but other love is being spread around. Thought leading networking companies like Cisco, Brocade, Nicira, and Internap are focusing their efforts on Project Quantum (Network). I was told this week that even though there are really only a few major Linux distros in terms of market share, there are still over 700 Linux ecosystem players. OpenStack is not even close yet to that size, and one could argue the potential market for cloud stacks is significantly larger than server OS.
OpenStack does not get to waltz into the party though without a fight. Many others will have something to say, and they are pillars themselves. Chris Kemp, CEO of Nebula and former NASA CTO delivered a keynote where he said OpenStack is not competing with VMware nor Amazon Web Services. He said both have completely different use cases in the industry. Yet the theme throughout the entire conference, and even keynote speakers immediately following Kemp reiterated that VMware and AWS are squarely in the crosshairs as the core competition. Don’t think VMware, AWS, Microsoft, Oracle, Citrix, and possibly others will stay idle.
One of the ways OpenStack is targeting VMware and AWS is by marketing choice and avoiding vendor lock-in as key benefits against them. I do have to issue one caution here. Does OpenStack desire to offer choice and interoperability? Yes. Are we anywhere near that reality? Not even close. The OpenStack platform is open. Public and private cloud providers building solutions on top of OpenStack however are doing many interesting (and closed) things to add value (for market differentiation) to the stack that will introduce lock-in. For instance, Rackspace, in its Next Generation Cloud built its own customer management portal, choosing to deploy a more robust portal than the default from OpenStack. While this portal is not a technology lock-in per se, it surely will be a process, management, and support lock-in. Customers will find it difficult to lift and shift from Rackspace to HP or OpenStack Provider X because of the effort involved to learn, train, and deploy their solutions into a new management portal. Possibly even more difficult is the fact that OpenStack is hypervisor agnostic (to a degree). If one cloud provider is running KVM under OpenStack and another is running XenServer, the complexity to move workloads and convert cannot be understated. I could go on with many more examples of value added lock-ins that exist, and if you are a Gartner for Technology Professionals customer, give me a call, I would love to discuss.
I’m excited to track this market over the next several months and years. I’ll get a chance to have some similar discussions with Citrix and CloudStack in early May and I hope to bring more key insights back from there.