Rackspace president: Cloud needs open alternative to Amazon

"Clones" of Amazon clouds will not create choice customers need in the cloud, Rackspace executive claims

Rackspace President Lew Moorman says that the cloud market needs an open source alternative to the undisputed leading public cloud infrastructure provider in the market, Amazon Web Services.

Rackspace, which is one of the bevy of public cloud competitors to AWS, has stuck its stake in the ground with OpenStack, to be that alternative. But Moorman says too many vendors are instead "cloning" AWS, which he says will lead to Amazon being able to call all the shots in the cloud.

"If we want real choice, you cannot be dependent on the roadmap of another provider," Moorman said after a presentation he gave at the Structure conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.

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Moorman says the evolution of cloud computing is bringing a fundamental shift in how applications interact with the underlying infrastructure. Whereas in the past applications and infrastructure were merged, with the application being limited by the capacity of the underlying infrastructure, today applications are decoupled from the infrastructure. "Applications are being built to control and manipulate the infrastructure," he says.

With those applications decoupled from the infrastructure, Moorman argues that customers will need choice in what underlying infrastructure will be used.

Moorman admits AWS has a "head start" in user adoption and that has led to other cloud vendors "copying" the AWS infrastructure model to allow for interoperability with it. That's a bad strategy, he says: "The idea of just trying to clone that is not going to work."

Naturally, Moorman argues that OpenStack, which Rackspace founded in 2010 with NASA, is the system that can provide this open source market alternative.

Invoking the open source contributions Linux made to the operating system market, Moorman says a similar situation is developing in the cloud world. "Linux has been a great thing overall for computing," he says. "There are going to be proprietary winners, and we need open alternatives."

OpenStack, he acknowledges, "still has a long way to go." Organizers of the project have been working on the core code for two years but he concedes "the proof is in the pudding." The true test of OpenStack will be when commercial cloud offerings based on the code emerge and end users truly embrace it.

Other cloud platforms are looking to fill a similar role. These include Eucalyptus, OpenNebula and CloudStack, which Citrix announced in April that it would spin out and make available as an open source project through the Apache Software Foundation. At the time of the announcement, Citrix officials - unlike Moorman - spoke about the need for fidelity with AWS. Since then, however, Citrix officials are comparing their system to the Linux of the cloud as well.

"For CloudStack, we have followed the same strategy that Linux used in its growth during the UNIX days: Leverage the [AWS] ecosystem with a set of common interfaces and innovate broadly within the API," wrote Peder Ulander, vice president of the cloud platforms group at Citrix in an e-mailed statement. "While we strive to have 100% fidelity with AWS, we continue to invest, innovate and maintain transparency of a broad API library for our platform. This helps us not only have AWS fidelity, but provides a broader applicability to what customers are trying to do with the cloud - not just be another private zone for an AWS deployment."

Moorman questions that strategy though. "As long as they're just playing a cloning game, I don't think the world's got an open alternative."

Rackspace is putting all its chips on its OpenStack bet. Moorman says by the end of this summer, Rackspace will run its complete public cloud infrastructure on the OpenStack platform. He expects additional announcements from other contributing companies to the project. HP, for example, has based its Converged Cloud offering on the OpenStack framework. OpenStack systems, Moorman says.

"I'm not saying proprietary doesn't have a big role to play," Moorman says. "But there's no question that we need choice."

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.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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