The OpenStack drama and the future of the cloud

Last week's ugly split between OpenStack and Citrix highlights the high stakes in establishing a dominant open source orchestration layer for cloud computing

For some time, I've been fascinated by OpenStack, an exciting open source project that's evolving into a "cloud operating system" for the data center. It was a shock last week to see Citrix Systems, a charter member of the OpenStack consortium, make a loud exclamation of no confidence and pull out, opting instead to create its own open source project based on CloudStack -- Citrix's own cloud software with similar functionality.

I suppose a dustup like this was to be expected. OpenStack is highly ambitious. A collaborative project launched by Rackspace and NASA, OpenStack boasts a large and growing pile of cloud orchestration services -- virtual machine management, object storage, machine image management -- plus, in its latest Essex release, authentication and dashboard monitoring services. Part of the idea is that anyone can adopt OpenStack, which is available under an Apache 2 license, and create their own OpenStack flavors, much as various providers have developed their own Linux distributions based on the Linux kernel. Citrix seemed to be headed in that direction.

[ Read all about the fracas in OpenStack cloud gains version, loses Citrix. | What's the private cloud and why would you possibly need one? Read the Private Cloud Deep Dive Report by InfoWorld's Matt Prigge. ]

But no, says Citrix, we think certain components of OpenStack are too immature and evolving too slowly. We think a cloud operating system is a great idea, and so do our customers, but they want to get up and running now, not when OpenStack grows up. When I asked Citrix representatives whether management of the OpenStack project was part of the reason Citrix was bailing, I quickly got an affirmative answer, the clear implication being that OpenStack is a sprawling project with too many cooks and not enough central coordination.

Says Citrix: Jump on our CloudStack open source bandwagon instead.

Chris Kemp, CEO of Nebula and one of OpenStack's NASA progenitors, sees things a little differently. Last week he offered InfoWorld contributing editor Oliver Rist this blunt assertion: "I think Citrix lied about aligning with OpenStack, then completely changed its position and viciously attacked OpenStack and threw it under the bus." He believes Citrix was actually more invested in Cloud.com, which Citrix bought last year for $200 million and now provides much of the core code for CloudStack.

I am in no position to determine Citrix's real motives or to say which has the better technology -- at least until the InfoWorld Test Center does some gargantuan comparison test. On one level, you could say this imbroglio was really between Citrix and Rackspace, two second-tier players busting a move in the cloud and colliding. Kemp claims "there's no one outside of Citrix contributing to" CloudStack in the open source community. But Rackspace admitted to me that "about 60 percent" of the code for OpenStack was contributed by Rackspace itself, including, presumably, the code it acquired from NASA.

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