VMware joining OpenStack delayed, for now

Even if VMware does join OpenStack, some question if it's just symbolic move

The OpenStack Board of Directors met this week and on the agenda was a somewhat surprising action item: Vote on whether or not to accept VMware - once thought to be a competitor to the project - into the increasingly popular who's-who club of cloud computing.

VMware's going to have to wait to see if they'll join the party though.

The OpenStack Board met Tuesday evening but didn't get around to considering VMware's application. VMware may now have to wait for OpenStack's next regularly scheduled board meeting, which is not until Oct. 19. There is a chance the board would reconvene in a special meeting before then, but there are no official plans to do so.

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Some expect VMware to be a significant contributor to two areas of OpenStack, including virtual networking - which is being led by engineers from Nicira, which VMware bought - and integration of OpenStack with VMware's Cloud Foundry platform as a service (PaaS) tool. The elephant in the room is whether VMware will work to further integrate its ESX hypervisor into the OpenStack project. Doing so could make it easier for VMware users to access non-VMware public clouds, undercutting the vCloud ecosystem that VMware has been developing.

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VMware's Matthew Lodge, vice president of cloud services, doesn't quite see it that way. The company's application to join OpenStack is about a simple goal: serving customers. Rackspace and AT&T - both major OpenStack contributors - are VMware and Nicira customers, and he notes that the company will continue to support both Nicira and Cloud Foundry integrations with OpenStack. As for increased ESX support, he says that will depend. "It's an area where we may do more work in the future," he says.

Ben Kepes, an industry analyst and blogger at Diversity, Ltd., says he gets the sense that VMware joining OpenStack is a residual benefit of its $1.2 billion acquisition of Nicira just a few months ago. "Anything more substantial would be a shocking move," he says.

Just how shocking? Lodge wrote a blogpost describing OpenStack, along with other open source projects CloudStack and Eucalyptus as the "three ugly sisters." Lodge says that was because open source companies were claiming to be more "open" than everyone else. Lodge says VMware has always embraced open source, dating back to its acquisition of SpringSource and the Rabbit MQ messaging service, along with Cloud Foundry. Earlier this year VMware purchased DynamicOps, which helps customers provision multi-cloud environments. Nicira's ability to work across multiple hypervisors points to this approach as well. But Kepes says VMware fully embracing OpenStack, and supporting ESX in the project would be a bigger shift for the company. "We've seen acquisitions, we've seen talk, but we haven't seen true actions," he says.

Lodge says even if ESX support is expanded in OpenStack that doesn't undercut the vCloud ecosystem. "We believe we have a much better answer. Better integration, more features," he says, adding that VMware and vCloud will surely compete with other options on the market, including OpenStack-powered public clouds. "If we do our job right, we believe we've built the best cloud stack."

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At VMworld this week, incoming CEO Pat Gelsinger reinforced the point in his keynote address that VMware is committed to multi-hypervisor support. James Staten, a Forrester cloud researcher, buys it. He believes VMware is committed to encouraging vSphere and Nicira technology in OpenStack. Other parts of OpenStack, though, particularly vCloud, represent a core competition. That makes a tricky line that VMware will tread, he predicts. "But so long as both (vCloud and OpenStack) run on vSphere and use Nicira networking, they feel they have another opportunity to compete for higher value business," he says. "Classic co-opetition in the high-tech market."

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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