VMware: OpenStack friend, foe, or frenemy?

Some say VMware's membership could doom OpenStack, but could it instead provide a more flexible hybrid cloud?

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Boris Renski of Mirantis, also a gold member of OpenStack, is skeptical about VMware's participation. Renski was very public about his concerns in a recent post on the Mirantis blog site:

Subduing OpenStack is exactly what VMware did by joining the foundation. Every enterprise considering OpenStack that we ever encountered at Mirantis was primarily interested in OpenStack as an open alternative to proprietary VMware. ... Now, with VMware in the OpenStack foundation, every enterprise buyer will rightfully ask the question: If OpenStack is not competing with VMware, then what the hell is OpenStack?

Renski says that OpenStack and VMware are different kinds of beasts, but his opposition comes down mostly to perception of OpenStack as an alternative to VMware. With VMware now a member of OpenStack, he believes it could drive users to competing open source cloud projects, such as the Citrix-backed CloudStack or Eucalyptus, which have no ties to the virtualization giant.

"You can't compete with OpenStack and promote it at the same time," said Renski. "For its $200,000 annual gold member fee, VMware just elegantly subdued one of its most feared competitors and we, at the foundation board, allowed that to happen. I fear it may have been the board's first wrong decision."

But let's be honest. Aren't the other public companies involved with OpenStack -- like Cisco, Dell, HP, IBM, and Rackspace -- also self-serving at the end of the day? They do after all each have their own fiduciary responsibility to their respective shareholders.

While Renski believes VMware has subdued OpenStack, the company's membership shouldn't be enough to unduly change the current board of directors' way of thinking or alter its decision-making process. If VMware does step out of line or tries something contrary to the foundation's purpose, wouldn't you think there would be some sort of recourse? If nothing else, the foundation could simply choose to not renew VMware's membership the following year. And who would blame them?

There is also little merit to the proposition that VMware is joining the foundation just to gain intelligence for its own cloud initiatives. These projects are already open source, so how much more data could VMware gain by spying from within?

Finally, just because VMware is a gold member of the foundation, it doesn't necessarily mean it will be able to adversely affect OpenStack code or somehow alter the direction of the project -- unless of course it somehow covertly stacks the deck of developers and takes over the foundation's technical committee. But with all eyes watching, is this really a possibility?

VMware's involvement in OpenStack may actually cause some industry players, who otherwise wouldn't have, to take a closer look at the foundation. The virtualization giant may help bring additional visibility and further legitimize the group, thereby attracting additional heavy-hitter developers to contribute code to the group's various projects.

I'm not saying VMware is joining the group for humanitarian reasons or that it has a heart the size of Texas when it comes to open source technology. But I'm also not ready to break out my tin foil hat and speak of conspiracy theories just yet either. All eyes will be watching to see which way the wind blows.

What do you think? Is VMware a friend, foe, or frenemy to OpenStack?

This article, "VMware: OpenStack friend, foe, or frenemy?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in virtualization and cloud computing at InfoWorld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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