Joyent vows to beat OpenStack at its own game

Node.js's parent company builds on its experience in the public cloud with a new version of its private and hybrid cloud software

Most folks who know the name Joyent associate it with Node.js. But it's also a cloud provider with a custom-built, in-house platform that's been quietly competing with Amazon and Google.

With the latest version of its SmartDataCenter private cloud, though, Joyent means to compete directly with a different class of product: private-cloud solutions like OpenStack.

SmartDataCenter supports a broad range of operating systems and virtualization technologies, and it features a container-based approach to managing applications that was derived from Solaris and built specifically for multitenancy. Joyent also features strong Node.js support and integration for SmartDataCenter, along with high-grade debugging solutions.

But according to Joyent CTO Bryan Cantrill, the largest advantage afforded by SmartDataCenter isn't in the feature set alone, but in the way it leverages the boots-on-the-ground experiences Joyent has in building its public cloud. "We have a very opinionated stack because it reflects our experiences about operating a public cloud," he told InfoWorld in an interview last week. "We operate a public cloud, we have our own software stack, and we have a huge opening for an on-premises stack that works and reflects the wisdom of running a private cloud.... Folks developing OpenStack have not actually put their own butts on the line by operating an OpenStack-based public cloud."

One possible exception to that rule is HP, with its OpenStack-powered HP Public Cloud aimed at enterprises trying to move their existing internal systems to private and hybrid clouds. But HP is only one party among several contributing to OpenStack.

Cantrill maintains that the consortium-based approach to designing OpenStack is one of its biggest liabilities. "We haven't been forced to make an architectural decision we don't believe in," he said. "There's none of this, 'Well, we think it should be this way, and we can't agree, so we'll have to allow the stack to be configured either way.' When I look at OpenStack, I look at a long series of these kinds of terrible compromises."

Joyent's current push for SmartDataCenter as competition for OpenStack is a reflection of how the company's been forced to rethink its approach for private cloud. Originally, Joyent tried to find a market for SmartDataCenter with public cloud service providers, but it didn't gain traction.

"That wasn't going to happen," Cantrill admitted, "because of the business built around them." Many telcos, he claimed, were all trying to beat Amazon at their own game without understanding the issues involved and how difficult it would be to compete in terms of cost. "In hindsight, we should have known they would have been failures. ... [So] we dialed back and focused on architectural work we needed to do anyway to take [the product] to the next level."

The fact that SmartDataCenter isn't an open source product might also keep potential adopters at bay. But Cantrill is skeptical about the value of an open source cloud solution since it's the stack that runs on top of the cloud -- and is typically open source anyway -- that matters most to an enterprise. "There's certainly value in having an open source orchestration layer," said Cantrill, "but I think it's easy to overemphasize that value, especially when that substrate is allowing vendors to add their own proprietary hooks."

To that end, Joyent's biggest challenge with with SmartDataCenter will be in attracting a class of customer that already has plenty of existing and better-known choices for its private cloud needs. Those choices don't only include OpenStack, but commercial solutions from folks like Microsoft and VMware that already enjoy their own entrenchment and support ecosystems.

This story, "Joyent vows to beat OpenStack at its own game," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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