VMware stamps its imprint on OpenStack, with eye toward VM management

Virtualization giant preps OpenStack distribution, perhaps as part of broader move to decouple its management tools and VM offerings

OpenStack is seen as an alternative to some of VMware's virtualization products, but now VMware is bringing OpenStack into its fold.

At VMworld 2014 today, the company announced its own version of OpenStack, VIO (VMware Integrated OpenStack). The company's press release provides an intriguing hint as to how VMware sees the project, since it's described as a solution to "enable IT organizations to quickly and cost-effectively provide developers with open, cloud-style APIs to access VMware infrastructure."

From the technical side, it's a slick concept: In VIO, an OpenStack cloud can be managed using VMware's toolset. It's a winning idea because VMware's tools are more broadly used -- and arguably more polished and powerful -- than OpenStack itself, which receives constant criticism for being unwieldy, hard to manage, and more of a framework than an actual product.

According to the Wall Street Journal, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger claims most VMware customers aren't even all that interested in OpenStack to begin with. It's no secret that OpenStack has worked as a low-to-no-cost alternative to VMware for some organizations, even as OpenStack adoption itself remains relatively modest. But for the folks interested in both systems, VMware wants to offer "choice without disruption," a way to leverage both VMware and OpenStack and to allow customers either option in the same package.

If VMware's edition of OpenStack lets you use only ESX as the hypervisor, then it's less of an OpenStack product and more of a VMware one. But another possibility is in the air: VMware could be integrating with OpenStack as a way of decoupling its management tools from its actual VM offerings. This would fit with VMware's general journey away from virtual machinesand toward the software-defined data center. Back in 2012, VMware acquired DynamicOps, an outfit that specializes in multihypervisor management solutions -- the sort of technology that would be a good fit for allowing VMware's tools to manage OpenStack no matter what hypervisor is being used.

According to a VMware spokesperson, "VMware Integrated OpenStack is optimized to work specifically with VMware infrastructure." But VMware also states "the OpenStack framework can be used to assemble clouds based entirely on VMware products, entirely from other sources, or some mix of the two." This is reminiscent of the debate around the support limitations for Red Hat's distribution of OpenStack, which also sparked questions about how much vendor influence over any particular incarnation of OpenStack was appropriate.

VMware is in fact part of the OpenStack Foundation -- a Gold member, on the same tier as Cisco and Dell -- but the openness of OpenStack may mean different things to its vendors than to its users. For users, it means being able to build on top of OpenStack without being locked into any one incarnation. For VMware, it means OpenStack can be shaped to suit VMware's needs as a cloud vendor. These two takes don't have to be at odds, but they aren't guaranteed to be in harmony, either.

Adrian Ionel, CEO of Mirantis, which has its own OpenStack distribution and recently partnered with Softlayer to create an OpenStack-as-a-service offering, was critical of VMware's approach. Ionel noted in an email that "while VMware now offers improved integration with OpenStack, it does not offer a full and open distribution." He added that Mirantis has a partnership of its own with VMware "to support the integration of our distro with VMware technologies," implying that other choices are available for VMware-centric users.

It'll be a while before we see how VMware's intentions become incarnate in an actual product, though; VIO isn't set to come out until 2015.

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