Rackspace is open-sourcing its cloud software — Cloud Files and Cloud Servers — and merging its codebase and roadmap with NASA’s Nebula project (not to be confused with OpenNebula), in order to form a broader community project called OpenStack. This will be hypervisor-neutral, and initially supports Xen (which Rackspace uses) and KVM (which NASA uses), and there’s a fairly broad set of vendors who have committed to contributing to the stack or integrating with it.
While my colleagues and I intend to write a full-fledged research note on this, I feel like shooting from the hip on my blog, since the research note will take a while to get done.
I’ve said before that hosters have traditionally been integrators, not developers of technology, yet the cloud, with its strong emphasis on automation, and its status as an emerging technology without true turnkey solutions at this stage, has forced hosters into becoming developers.
I think the decision to open-source its cloud stack reinforces Rackspace’s market positioning as a services company, and not a software company — whereas many of its cloud competitors have defined themselves as software companies (Amazon, GoGrid, and Joyent, notably).
At the same time, open sourcing is not necessarily a way to software success. Rackspace has a whole host of new challenges that it will have to meet. First, it must ensure that the roadmap of the new project aligns sufficiently with its own needs, since it has decided that it will use the project’s public codebase for its own service. Second, it now has to manage and just as importantly, lead, an open-source community, getting useful commits from outside contributors and managing the commit process. (Rackspace and NASA have formed a board for governance of the project, on which they have multiple seats but are in the minority.) Third, as with all such things, there are potential code-quality issues, the impact of which become significantly magnified when running operations at massive scale.
In general, though, this move is indicative of the struggle that the hosting industry is going through right now. VMware’s price point is too high, it’ll become even higher for those who want to adopt “Redwood” (vCloud), and the initial vCloud release is not a true turnkey service provider solution. This is forcing everyone into looking at alternatives, which will potentially threaten VMware’s ability to dominate the future of cloud IaaS. The compelling value proposition of single pane of glass management for hybrid clouds is the key argument for having VMware both in the enterprise and in outsourced clouds; if the service providers don’t enthusiastically embrace this technology (something which is increasingly threatening), the single pane of glass management will go to a vendor other than VMware, probably someone hypervisor-neutral. Citrix, with its recent moves to be much more service provider friendly, is in a good position to benefit from this. So are hypervisor-neutral cloud management software vendors, like Cloud.com.