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Sizzling open vs. proprietary debate heats up the cloud

Vendor rhetoric hot and heavy; Amazon Web Services still could have last laugh

By , Network World
April 18, 2012 12:47 PM ET

Network World - It's turning into a mud-slinging affair in the cloud computing industry.

The familiar debate of open source vs. proprietary IT offerings now seems in full swing in the cloud, and the rhetoric shooting back and forth between some of the major vendors is intensifying. The most recent round really picked up a few weeks ago when Citrix announced it would bring its CloudStack cloud building platform to the Apache Software Foundation, creating a competing model to OpenStack. Before that, OpenStack had been gaining momentum in the open source cloud worlds. While Citrix's move was initially seen as a competition to OpenStack, both companies have more recently taken aim at a common foe: VMware.

MORE ON OPEN CLOUDS: Comparing open source cloud communities

A VMware executive, not to be outdone, wrote a fairy tale themed blog post calling competitors "ugly sisters" and comparing VMware to the Prince Charming and Cinderella that will run off with the customers. The same day as the blog post, a Citrix official wrote a rebuff blog post titled "vCloud or vPumpkin?" predicting VMware's demise at the hands of customers who choose open source cloud deployment models instead. "I'd suggest that the only thing [VMware has] in common with Cinderella is the fact that the fantasy image you've so carefully created is evaporating before your eyes," wrote Peder Ulander of Citrix.

Officials from Rackspace, which is one of the biggest backers of the OpenStack project, have also drawn a line in the sand, though this time aiming their ire at Amazon Web Services. "Amazon's proprietary system cultivates customer lock-in," Rackspace CEO Lanham Napier was quoted as saying in an interview. "We think OpenStack will be the technology standard and our fanatical support will be the service standard. We're trying to create a better service."

James Staten, an analyst with Forrester Research, says there is an age-old debate about open vs. proprietary offerings in IT that ebbs and flows. "Clearly we're in a flow point right now," he says. De factor standards in an industry "scare people" and push some to consider alternatives, which is part of the reason Staten says the debate seems to be flaring up. In the cloud world, AWS's application program interfaces (APIs) are becoming a de facto standard, creating this hubbub of commotion between vendors, Staten says.

But what does it really mean for customers?

Open source vs. proprietary has never been a black-and-white issue for either side, Staten says. Open vendors claim their customers have much greater agility, and they let users advance the open source code in any way they want. Proprietary vendors sell customers on the stability and ease of management in the offering.

Marc Brien, a cloud analyst with Domicity, says propriety cloud offerings are more advanced right now. "In the immediate term, an enterprise or a service provider that has to stand up a full-functioning cloud, today, may decide a proprietary solution is more technologically mature and safer," he says. "In these early days of cloud computing, the VMwares and the Amazons enjoy significant elbow room, but will find their market space narrowing as open source quickly gathers momentum."

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