Did OpenStack Let VMware Into The Henhouse? - InformationWeek

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Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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Did OpenStack Let VMware Into The Henhouse?

VMware has paid its way onto the board of OpenStack, the open source alternative for enterprise cloud standards. Here's what OpenStack must do now.

OpenStack is the main initiative contesting VMware's growing dominance in running the enterprise cloud. OpenStack has both the momentum as an expanding open source project, and the right governance with the new OpenStack Foundation. It should be able to pose as a long-range alternative.

OpenStack provides the building blocks of cloud computing: compute, network, and storage management, with virtual machine provisioning built in. It has a monitoring/reporting system through its Horizon dashboard, plus image management in Glance. But it must compete with Amazon-compatible open source code from Eucalyptus Systems, and a more polished, OpenStack-like package in Apache's CloudStack, contributed by Citrix Systems.

OpenStack is off to a great start, but it will need something else as well: the ongoing commitment of many talented developers, including independent open source developers as well as those sponsored by large vendors. The momentum that it enjoys at the moment is from the backing of large companies. They're an impressive lot: Hewlett-Packard, AT&T, IBM, Rackspace, Dell, Intel, Cisco Systems, Juniper, Brocade, PayPal, and Yahoo, among others. But that backing is not enough.

OpenStack started with two founders: NASA and the cloud/hosted services vendor Rackspace. Rackspace didn't intend to become the primary sponsor, but NASA fell away as an active contributor as budget priorities during the recession drew personnel elsewhere. Rackspace emerged as the main sponsor--OpenStack meetings were hosted on Rackspace premises, and working groups tended to be led by Rackspace technical personnel. That's always a concern because true open source projects function indisputably above the interests of any one vendor.

[ Want to learn more about the open source alternatives to VMware? See Great Open Source Cloud Debate Rages. ]

The OpenStack Project has reasserted that independence with its new foundation. On Aug. 28, the new board of directors met and elected Alan Clark, director of new initiatives and cloud computing at SUSE, as its chairman, and Lew Tucker, CTO of cloud computing at Cisco, as vice chairman. That was not the beginning of the transition away from Rackspace, but the end. "It began last fall as representatives started moving toward a community-driven project," Tucker said.

Rackspace showed statesmanship in stepping back from its leadership role and turning over governance. That's also in Rackspace's interest as an early OpenStack implementer. If OpenStack catches on, Rackspace will have a better chance to compete with both Amazon's EC2 cloud infrastructure services and VMware's virtualization and management software.

The eight platinum supporters of OpenStack get a seat on the board of directors in exchange for ponying up $500,000 a year. That provides funds for full-time developers and an administrative staff of several people working with executive director Jonathan Bryce, originator of the Mosso cloud at Rackspace in 2006, which became the Rackspace Cloud in 2009. Rackspace offers infrastructure-as-a-service and led the market with low-cost, small-server options, encouraging early users. Bryce is a recognized pioneer in cloud computing.

The board further diversifies authority with eight gold members, elected from the current total of 13 gold memberships, plus eight elected community members out of a community that numbers 5,600.

The eight platinum members include IBM, Red Hat, Rackspace, HP, SUSE, Ubuntu, AT&T, and Nebula. Nebula, Rackspace, and HP all have significant cloud strategies that hinge on OpenStack code. Both Cisco and soon Red Hat will have their own distributions of OpenStack, while HP and Rackspace base their infrastructure-as-a-service offerings on the OpenStack code. Nebula offers a packaged version of OpenStack for running private clouds in the enterprise data center.

Gold members agree to support two or more full-time developers, whether from inside their company or outside. The 13 gold members include the Cloud Computing Association in Taiwan, Piston, Cisco, CloudScaling, Dell, DreamHost, Intel, Mirantis, MorphLabs, NEC, NetApp, VMware, and Yahoo. In addition, there are 25 corporate sponsors that each contribute $10,000 to $25,000 (startups get the lower end of the range). Beyond that, there are 850 companies and 5,600 individuals signed up as members of the project. All told, OpenStack has an initial $10 million to establish its more permanent development structure.

In one sense, platinum and gold memberships admit the influence of money--these financial contributors end up with 16 votes on a 24-member board. But their payments also put teeth into their promise to support ongoing development. A company that's not deeply committed to the basic goals of the project is unlikely to advance the $500,000 to become a platinum member.

The eight elected community members provide balance and an ability to referee any competing interests among the financial contributors, which include many competitors.

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