Schuberg Philis forks CloudStack: What happens next?

CloudStack, the opens source cloud operating system, is being forked. This is interesting on so many different levels.

Schuberg Philis forks CloudStack what happens next
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In the open source cloud space, OpenStack, the initiative co-instigated five or so years ago by NASA and Rackspace, has the lion's share of the attention. Indeed, you would be forgiven for thinking that there is no other open source cloud operating system other than OpenStack. But in thinking that you'd be wrong. You see, before OpenStack was even a thing, a small startup called was founded to create a cloud operating system to be a kind of a "private Amazon Web Services." was acquired by Citrix back in 2011, renamed CloudStack, and thereafter decided to donate the software as an open source project under the Apache Software Foundation.

So far, so good.

But then OpenStack came along and gained huge vendor buy-in (from IBM, HP, Rackspace and many others) and massive venture capital investment. In doing so, it sucked up pretty much all of the oxygen in attention terms, and CloudStack kind of languished in obscurity.

That's not to say, however, that CloudStack was the poor cousin when it came to quality. At least in the early days, the generally accepted opinion was that CloudStack was actually a far more robust and enterprise-ready product than OpenStack.

Fast-forward a few years and OpenStack has matured a great deal, and is increasingly being used for production workloads. CloudStack hasn't gained much attention, but is still being worked on. In particular, Schuberg Philis, a Dutch IT services company, had been working on CloudStack since 2011. Late that year, a team of Schuberg Philis engineers began building the first stage of their Mission Critical Cloud. They started with a proof of concept built upon both OpenStack and CloudStack. This approach was used to test and explore the feature set of both platforms. In the engineer's opinion, CloudStack delivered far greater reliability and simplicity than OpenStack, and the team settled on that platform.

Schuberg Philis got heavily involved in open source in general, and CloudStack in particular. They hired developers to write code that was contributed back to the project, sponsored CloudStack conferences, and did much to help CloudStack become more widely adopted. But this involvement was a little problematic. The company had some code quality issues rear their heads and determined that their own focus on stability and testing was not matched by other players.

Hence the recent decision to fork CloudStack. According to a blog post by Arjan Eriks from the company:

"This was not a decision we have made lightly, and we are keenly aware that this move has a number of implications for not only us as a company but also for the existing CloudStack community. Over time, both versions may start to deviate from each other. We have decided that our fork will remain open source to allow for as much collaboration as possible. We are aware that others in the past have chosen to close forks of CloudStack and develop internally, but we believe in the power of sharing. Being open, inclusive and transparent are values we see as a key driver in making the IT world a little better. An open fork, with the tools and procedures we feel are needed to ensure higher velocity, greater reliability, and better quality, is, in our opinion, the best option at this point in time."

In the interim, Citrix has actually sold off its cloud management business (which was based upon CloudStack) and, counter-intuitively, joined the OpenStack Foundation as a corporate sponsor. While this could be seen as negative for the CloudStack project, it seems there is some ongoing work happening. TeamSun, a leading Chinese integrated IT service provider, and ShapeBlue have announced a new strategic partnership to develop private and hybrid enterprise cloud offerings for the Chinese market, based on Apache CloudStack technology. And quietly, but actively, a number of incredibly high-profile enterprise organizations are using CloudStack for their clouds.

The general consensus from people I talked to within the industry and who have had involvement with CloudStack is that this is a good thing since it allows Schuberg Philis to move as fast as they see fit. There was the question as to why they actually needed to form it. Given the Apache license that CloudStack works under, they could have just built around the core CloudStack product and not had to have contribute the add-ons back to the community.

One interesting piece of commentary came from someone who has been involved with the CloudStack initiative almost since day one. His suggestion was that this gives Schuberg Philis the ability to build strong support for container management deeply within CloudStack. They suggested that OpenStack, with its core focus on virtual machines (VMs) as the unit of compute, means that it is no longer anything of an interesting proposition. By forking CloudStack and giving itself the freedom to move where it sees fit, maybe Schuberg Philis will help CloudStack realize its potential.

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