Why OpenStack will falter

Open source history suggests that Eucalyptus, a private cloud implementation of Amazon Web Services, will triumph over OpenStack

After reading a recent interview with Eucalyptus CEO Marten Mickos, I'm beginning to reconsider my views on the contest between Eucalyptus and OpenStack becoming the dominant open source cloud platform.

The vendor attention around OpenStack of late has been nothing short of amazing. Once a project controlled by Rackspace, vendors such as Dell, Citrix Systms, and Hewlett-Packard have joined the OpenStack open source community. Rackspace has given control of the project to the OpenStack foundation, apparently at the behest of large vendors contributing to the project. However, as Mickos states, OpenStack is still a work in progress and not production-ready -- yet.

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A tale of two open source values

Like many people, I'd assumed that the community around OpenStack gave it the critical mass required for OpenStack to become the leading open source cloud platform. I'm questioning that assumption now.

To explain why, let's look back at two leading open source projects: the Linux project and the Apache HTTP Server. I use "Linux project" in the broadest sense, including the Linux kernel and the various open source packages that round out a typical Linux distribution.

History has shown that when an open source project is dealing with a valuable layer of the software stack, that project has tended to be controlled by a single vendor that can directly make money from the project. (The term "value" represents the differentiation that can be monetized.) Although multiple implementations or distributions may result from the project, a single vendor becomes the dominant provider in the space. For Linux, that's Red Hat with its Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) products. In the open source database space, MySQL fits this model.

History also shows that when an open source project is dealing with a commodity layer of the software stack, the project tends to be controlled by a foundation. In these cases, the project is used as a piece of a higher-value product that provides differentiated value and, thus, can be monetized through that product. Said differently, the open source project itself is indirectly monetized through the higher value product. Two examples are the Apache HTTP Server, used in most commercial application server products, and Eclipse, used in many commercial application development products.

Eucalyptus and OpenStack's future

If history is to repeat itself, you need to consider whether or not an open source cloud platform is a valuable and thus directly monetizable part of the software stack. If it is, a single-vendor-controlled open source project has a higher potential of success than a foundation-controlled project.

Open source foundations are great, playing a valuable role in various open source projects. However, the mixture of 10 or 100 vendor motivations makes it increasingly difficult for a foundation to meet both the needs of the project and the monetization goals of each vendor member.

Keep in mind that this issue applies only if the project is a directly monetizable layer of the software stack. As an outsider looking in, this appears to be the fundamental difference in Eucalyptus and the overall OpenStack community.

The OpenStack community -- especially vendors such as Dell, HP, and Rackspace -- view OpenStack as addressing a part of the software stack that isn't directly monetizable. These vendors would rather use OpenStack to build a higher-value product that they can directly monetize. For example, Dell and HP would likely sell "Cloud Platform Ready" hardware systems rather than an OpenStack software product itself -- and in fact, Dell has already done this.

Clearly, Eucalyptus disagrees that a cloud platform is best managed by a consortium of competitors, and CEO Mickos claims to be growing customers "at an amazing rate." Eucalyptus has grown from 15 to 70 employees over the past year and added a new headquarters in London to grow in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa -- a sign that his growth claims have merit.

In the end, IT buyers will decide whether Eucalyptus or the OpenStack community made the right bet. I tend to agree with Eucalyptus that a cloud platform is indeed a valuable, and thus directly monetizable, layer of the software stack. If so, Eucalyptus should win as the OpenStack effort falters among competing member interests.

What do you think?

I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions.

This article, "Why OpenStack will falter," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Savio Rodrigues's Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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