RackSpace's well-coordinated public announcement of OpenStack last week was a refreshing, if not surprising, bit of news. Since the open source movement gained momentum, there has regularly been a viable free alternative in most important software sectors. The industry was just begging for an honest-to-goodness open source presence in the IaaS space, and OpenStack seems prepared to deliver. It's open at every level, as discussed in detail on the project's web site, and it has backing from some of the biggest players. What, exactly, will it have to offer?
One possibility that I'm excited about is a plethora of localized cloud services from your friendly neighborhood hosting provider. In the Denver and Boulder region, we have plenty of small players in the colocation and hosting businesses. We also have a lot of small- and medium-sized businesses who would like to use cloud services, but fear compliance challenges and far reaching security implications. A local service offering elastic computing can offer these folks reassurance and a smaller scale. The warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from seeing the systems hosting your sensitive data should not be underestimated. I don't feel very warm or fuzzy with my EC2 instances hosted in a data center far, far away.
OpenStack could also accelerate the adoption of private, hybrid, and community clouds, again at the small- and mid-sized level. Jack-of-all-trade system admins will have access to fiddle with the product at will, and the open source nature appeals to fresh-faced college grads with a penchant for the bleeding edge. The low cost of entry and wide community support is encouraging for businesses used to lean and mean operational expenses. License and support costs associated with commercial offerings may not be available in the budget. Building the fabled Intercloud or interoperating development and test environments with production Amazon systems is a natural fit for hipster startups.
Of course, this all assumes that the project sees traction both in the user community and among its corporate participants. Rackspace is clearly behind the movement, as the number of approved contributors from the company indicates. I'm less sure of the intentions of companies like Citrix (despite the excitement of its cloud evangelist) who may simply wish to sponsor some competition in the market. The project doesn't currently claim any developers from Citrix on the public approved contributor list.
Competition in cloud computing is a welcome prospect, and OpenStack shows a lot of potential. All signs point to an exciting new alternative for do-it-yourself companies who are ready to adopt the cloud. Time will tell; the first release is in October, and I for one plan to follow its development closely.
Ben Whaley is a co-author of the fourth edition of the seminal system administration book series, UNIX and Linux System Administration Handbook. He is also the Director of Enterprise Architecture at Applied Trust, an IT security, infrastructure, and performance consulting company based in Boulder, Colorado. He is an open source zealot, security champion, and connoisseur of emerging technologies.
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