If there's one part of the OpenStack market that never stops yielding enterprising newcomers, it's the market for solutions to simplify OpenStack implementations. Not only could OpenStack still use help there, but such an approach nearly guarantees a revenue stream.
Newest to this table is ZeroStack, a freshly decloaked startup from VMware and AMD alumni, with a novel approach to OpenStack management for smaller and midtier outfits.
Your OpenStack is their business
ZeroStack's idea is a mixture of an on-premises 2U appliance and a cloud-based SaaS portal. The appliance, a mixture of infrastructure and controller, is installed in the customer's data center, and administration is done through ZeroStack's cloud portal. Changes to the software are pushed out automatically to appliances from the cloud, and ZeroStack claims it can bring an existing OpenStack installation up to the latest revision of the product within two months of release.
Another touted advantage to ZeroStack's approach: The OpenStack API set is still exposed through the appliance. After an organization gets its legs with OpenStack via ZeroStack's administration system, it can make more direct use of those APIs if it chooses.
ZeroStack is also adding features like the capacity for self-healing so that any health problems with an OpenStack setup can be dealt with by way of the cloud service's collective intelligence.
Pitfalls still ahead
One obvious implication of ZeroStack's offering is it could serve as a starting point for the truly open hybrid cloud OpenStack's advocates have been stumping for. ZeroStack doesn't have explicit plans for a hybrid play yet, but co-founder and CEO Ajay Gulati (ex-VMware) mentioned in an interview that the company is going to add gateways to other public clouds such as Amazon.
For ZeroStack to stay in the game, it'll need to avoid the many pitfalls that have claimed other vendors in this space. Nebula comes most immediately to mind, especially after it crashed and burned by overestimating both the size of the market and its real nature. Mirantis, one of the big three names in OpenStack (next to Canonical and Red Hat), has its own appliance strategy that doesn't depend on any one particular hardware configuration and is not intended to become the bedrock of the company's revenue stream.
Gulati was quick to cite differences between ZeroStack's approach and Nebula's. Aside from the technical differences between the Nebula and ZeroStack appliances (Nebula used a controller-node architecture; ZeroStack does not), ZeroStack "provides the actual server node on which workloads will run"), Nebula "[shipped] a packed Openstack and did not have any SaaS platform for operations and management."
Many OpenStack innovators have ended up being absorbed into the folds of one of OpenStack's major corporate backers -- such as IBM and Cisco acquiring of Blue Box Group and Piston Cloud, respectively, with the products subsumed into the OpenStack-powered cloud platforms of their new parents. For ZeroStack to avoid such a fate, it'll need to cut the same path as Mirantis. That's tough to do in a market whose existing size and growth only seems to allow for so many players and so much competition -- and where the demand for OpenStack tilts more toward larger companies than smaller ones.