The Battle For The Mind, Heart And Soul Of The Cloud

Amazon,Citrix, Eucalyptus, OpenStack Essex and more fight for cloud supremacy

While you have been busy working, eating and sleeping there has been a battle going on.  No, not a "hot war" with real bullets and bombs, but a war for the mind, heart and soul of the future of the cloud. On one side is Amazon with its AWS, the original (if not the first) public cloud. On the other side are the many providers who have coalesced around the open source OpenStack, led by Rackspace which has still not relinquished control of it. Stuck in the middle are a myriad of developers, cloud management software vendors and multi-cloud users who would like to see one standard, one API that could be used across all manner of clouds. So lets get out your scorecards and see if you can follow along here.

The most recent string of news reports have been about momentum that Amazon's AWS has gathered. An important thing to remember about AWS is that it is not a monolithic offering.  There are actually like 20 different Amazon cloud offerrings that are part of AWS. On top of this there are dozens of 3rd parties who have developed products which are available to Amazon AWS customers. Enough to start an Amazon cloud app store I am sure.

A few weeks ago cloud management software provider Eucalyptus announced a partnership with Amazon that more closely linked ex-MySQL CEO Marten Mickos' company with the AWS platform that is its bread and butter. The heart of the deal was that Eucalyptus had licensed the Amazon API which for all intents and purposes has become a de facto standard. Gartner's Lydia Leong has a good post on this announcement and what it could mean. However, Leong seems a little bearish on the deal and Eucalyptus. There are others who think that Eucalyptus, which has been a bit of an industry darling, has now more than ever hitched its future to the AWS wagon, and that is not a bad thing.

Today another shoe dropped on the Amazon AWS story. Citrix who has shepherded the Xen virtual machine software from open source project acquired into a commercial hypervisor product announced that it was donating its CloudStack cloud management system to the Apache Foundation and releasing the entire platform under the open source preferred Apache license. 

CloudStack is of course the product they picked up when they paid big dollars for the start up. was an open core model business in which part of CloudStack was already open sourced. But there were many commercial mods that you had to pay for if you wanted to use CloudStack. It was also Amazon compatible, but since Citrix acquired, they have gotten very cozy with OpenStack camp. Of course, Citrix's real target in all of this is VMware.  Their Xen offering is 2nd only to VMware's hypervisor software in the market. With OpenStack offering VMware support, is it any wonder that Citrix would steer CloudStack to Xen powered Amazon?

On top of this there are almost daily announcements of 3rd parties supporting Amazon's cloud offerings. Amazon's cloud is clearly the market leader,  though discerning actual numbers in this market is more than difficult.

But don't think for a minute that OpenStack has been standing still. Quite the contrary, the OpenStack project has been a rocket almost since the day NASA engineers started on what became OpenStack.  For a great history and recap of OpenStack check out this Wired article from Monday. In just a few short years this project has made great strides. In addition to Rackspace which combined some of their own cloud initiatives with the work from the NASA team to form OpenStack, the platform has attracted over 150 companies to come out and support the open source platform. These are not little companies we are talking about either.  Names like HP, Dell and even IBM have been rumored or announced to support OpenStack.

Like other open source projects OpenStack suffers from sometimes being too hard, too quirky, too raw. It may not be as polished as some commerical products. There are rumblings that Rackspace hasn't moved quickly enough to set OpenStack truly free. But one thing that no one can grumble about is that the OpenStack team has tried and more often than not succeeded in sticking to its schedules. This morning the OpenStack project announced their latest release, version 5 called Essex. Demonstrating the broad support of the OpenStack project, over 200 developers contributed code to this release.  The highlights of Essex from the release include: 

  • OpenStack Compute (code-name Nova) Focus on stability and integration with Dashboard and Identity, including enhancements to feature parity among the tier one hypervisors -- making it a seamless user experience across each hypervisor -- improved authorization and live migration with multi-host networking. There were also contributions to support high-performance computing and additional block storage options, including support for Nexenta, SolidFire, and NetApp storage solutions.
  • OpenStack Object Storage (code-name Swift) Significant new features to improve compliance and data security with the ability to expire objects according to document retention policies, more  protections against corruption and degradation of data, and sophisticated disaster recovery improvements. Also new capabilities important to service providers including the ability to upload data directly from an authenticated web page and the ability to restrict the maximum number of containers per account.
  • OpenStack Dashboard (code-name Horizon) The first full release of OpenStack Dashboard provides administrators and users the ability to access, provision and automate cloud-based resources through a self-service portal. The extensible design makes it easy to plug in and expose third party products and services, such as monitoring.
  • OpenStack Identity (code-name Keystone) The first full release of OpenStack Identity unifies all core projects of the cloud operating system with a common authentication system. The technology provides authorization for multiple log-in credentials, including username/password, token-based and AWS-style logins.
  • OpenStack Image Service (code-name Glance) – The Image Service received several key updates to improve usability, authorization and image protection.
 New Networking Automation and Capabilities Added with Quantum

Project Quantum, led by Nicira, Cisco, Citrix, Midokura and Rackspace, was incubated during the Essex release and aims to provide an automated framework for managing data center network activities. Quantum is a plug-in based service that manages common network administrative tasks, from creating ports and routes to configuring VLANs. Many users have been deploying OpenStack clouds with the Quantum networking service during the incubation phase, and Quantum is expected to become a core part of OpenStack in the “Folsom” release expected Fall 2012.

But there is more. The OpenStack summit is taking place the week of April 16th. You can expect to see and hear a lot more news about OpenStack and support from all of its partners and developers.

So does OpenStack and Amazon AWS have to be mutually exclusive? Can't they all just get along and give peace a chance? That sounds all fine and dandy, but the truth is in tech it usually doesn't work that way. At least not at first. Think Mac/Windows, Windows/Linux, iOS/Android.  It seems in the tech industry we thrive on technical Darwinism where competing technology has to fight it out and like in the Highlander, "there can be only one."

But maybe the future of the cloud is a multi-cloud one. A future where cloud users actually utilize a variety of different cloud platforms with a management tool that ties them all together. This is exactly the sort of future that Michael Crandell, CEO of RightScale foresees.  Michael says, "there's no sign that they'll be a dominant provider anytime soon -- and no need really for a single standard anyway.  Imagine a service that let the customer choose freely among them, where and when they liked -- that's what RightScale does for cloud providers."

In fact RighScale's data shows that many people who use the cloud are already using more than one cloud platform. They use a hybrid of private and public, open source and not.  RightScale believes with their software making this sort of multi-cloud possible, no one should have to choose one platform over another.

While this sounds great, I think as usual the devil is in the details.  With so much at stake there will be factions playing for any advantage they can.  It should be interesting to watch as this all plays out.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.