Oops. OpenStack board member says letting VMware into project was a mistake

Member of newly formed OpenStack board of directors is worried about the perception of letting a chief rival into the project

VMware is in OpenStack now, but not everyone thinks that's such a good idea.

One member of the newly created OpenStack Board of Directors says allowing VMware into the open source cloud project was a "huge mistake" that could damage the project's market perception.

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BACKGROUND: VMware joining OpenStack delayed, for now

Boris Renski is co-founder of OpenStack integration consultancy Mirantis and he says every enterprise he's worked with so far has been interested in OpenStack because they view it as an alternative to VMware. The board's vote earlier this month has now muddled the differences, he says. "If OpenStack isn't an alternative to VMware, then what the hell is it?" Renski says.

VMware's entrance into OpenStack has been part of a whirlwind of news during the past few months for the virtualization company and Renksi's comments may reflect some tension between the two camps. Those tensions could have been fueled in part by a blog post by VMware VP of Cloud Strategies Mathew Lodge in April comparing the open source projects, including OpenStack, to the three "ugly sisters," which he says was in response to the projects claiming they are more open than VMware.

In recent weeks VMware has gone on somewhat of an M&A spree. First it purchased DynamicOps, which specializes in launching cloud platforms from multiple providers, then it dropped $1.2 billion to purchase Nicira, one of the chief OpenFlow and software-defined networking companies and a major contributor to the OpenStack project. Days after the Nicira acquisition closed, VMware applied to become a "gold" member of the OpenStack community, which requires up to a $200,000 investment and committed staff working on the project. The OpenStack board of directors initially delayed the vote to let VMware join, then in a special meeting approved the move. Lodge told Network World recently that VMware is looking to join OpenStack to extend its vision of a software-defined data center. But Renski isn't buying that.

In a blog post on the Mirantis website, Renski says his opposition comes down mostly to marketing and perception of OpenStack as an alternative to VMware. He admits from a technology point of view there may not be a huge problem with VMware joining OpenStack, but he believes it could drive users to competing open source cloud projects, such as the Citrix-backed Apache CloudStack and Eucalyptus, which do not have associations with VMware. The vote to allow VMware into OpenStack was nearly unanimous, Renski says, but he believes other board members may have agreed with him and just may not have been willing to express that publicly in a vote against VMware joining the project. "It was a mistake and I think if VMware had not been accepted it would have been a crisper, bolder move that would have underlined OpenStack as the open source alternative to VMware," he says. "With VMware in, the project is diluted. What's next, will we be letting Amazon and Microsoft in?"

Gartner cloud analyst Lydia Leong, who has been tracking the OpenStack project, says ever since VMware's purchase of Nicira, it was inevitable that VMware would in some way or another be involved in OpenStack. The company wants its Nicira technology -- for which it paid a hefty price -- to be fully used within the OpenStack ecosystem. There could be some ancillary benefits as well, including VMware getting more insight into strategies of other member companies, such as Cisco, HP, Dell and Red Hat. "Having a foothold in the enemy camp doesn't hurt," Leong says. Furthermore, as an open source project, it may have looked bad for the OpenStack board to reject a member's application to join as one of its first major moves.

Others disagree with Renski. Krishnan Subramanian, an analyst at Rishidot Research, says VMware and other tech heavyweights, such as Microsoft (which is not yet an OpenStack member), joining the project legitimize OpenStack. Plus, he says, VMware has an incentive to "play nice" with OpenStack given its Nicira ties, as well as the market opportunity of integrating its Cloud Foundry platform as a service further into OpenStack. The big question remains whether VMware will work to extend support for its ESX hypervisor in OpenStack. Doing so could undermine VMware's vSphere and vCloud Director products because OpenStack could theoretically provide many of the same capabilities. Leong believes VMware will advance some support for its hypervisor, but will keep much of the true value of the product in its own offerings.

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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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.