Is OpenStack the new Linux?

Or is this open source 'cloud operating system' just a launching pad for a million new cloud businesses? Either way, the excitement is contagious

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Around the same time, public cloud provider Rackspace, occupying a distant second behind Amazon Web Services in the IaaS (infrastructure as a service) market, decided to cook up an open source cloud management system that would help raise the company's profile.

In early 2010, not long after Kemp had been promoted to NASA's CTO, NASA's endeavors caught the notice of Rackspace. Rackspace and NASA were headed in the same direction; they were even using the same language, Python, to accomplish their goals. As it turned out, the NASA crew was further along on the "compute" service, code-named Nova, to enable admins to provision and manage server instances on the fly. Meanwhile, Rackspace had written the code for a storage service, dubbed Swift.

Rackspace sought to establish a collaborative relationship with NASA -- and OpenStack was the result. Along with Nova and Swift, Glance (for managing VM images) was added to the mix for the first OpenStack code release in October 2010. Meanwhile, Kemp was lured into leaving his position as NASA CTO to found Nebula, whose principal product will be a private cloud appliance built in part on OpenStack code.

On stage at the OpenStack event, Kemp revs up the crowd as he introduces Essex, the fifth revision of OpenStack, loaded with 150 new features, including a cloud management dashboard (Horizon), an identity management service (Keystone), and more. He also covers projects not yet ready for release: Quantum, the cloud networking service under development by Cisco and Nicira (a network virtualization player that has also contributed OpenvSwitch, a Linux-based virtual switch, to the OpenStack community).

The crowd cheers, but I hear a loud snort next to me when Kemp wraps up his speech with a line about the participants in the OpenStack consortium being happy to work together. The source of the snort, a guy in an XXL black T-shirt that says "Chaotic evil means never having to say you're sorry," turns to me and gleefully confides: "Maybe they're working together now, but most of 'em hate each other."

Backstabbing in the cloud
That seems harsh; as far as I can tell, the vendor participants in OpenStack seem to be getting along pretty well, considering the vast breadth of project. There's one glaring exception: the ugly departure of Citrix, one of the first big vendors to lend legitimacy to OpenStack, just before the gala event in San Francisco.

Citrix cited two main reasons for abandoning OpenStack in favor of CloudStack: insurmountable technological incompatibilities between the two platforms and OpenStack's insufficient responsiveness to customer needs. Citrix also went out of its way to criticize the Nova compute platform as immature and implied that Rackspace, which has run the OpenStack project from the beginning, didn't know what it was doing because it had no experience managing an open source community.

According to Citrix, CloudStack, also an open source project under Apache 2 license, has a bunch of customers using it in production already. In comparison, OpenStack still has a long way to go -- and Citrix customers want a solution now.

A couple of days before the show, I asked Kemp for his reaction to Citrix's move, and he didn't pull any punches: "I think Citrix lied about aligning with OpenStack and then completely changed their position and viciously attacked OpenStack and threw them under the bus. And I think they're irrelevant."

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