RackSpace's OpenStack targets cloud lock-in

NASA's involvement and early interest from partners bode well

Rackspace's contribution of code to a new open-source project called OpenStack could help establish a counterweight to larger and proprietary players like Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), according to some observers.

OpenStack, which was announced Monday, will include the code behind Rackspace's Cloud Files and Cloud Servers technology. NASA is also involved, contributing software that runs its own Nebula cloud platform.

The first component, OpenStack Object Storage, is based on Cloud Files and is available now. The second piece, a compute-provisioning engine based on the Cloud Servers and Nebula technologies, will be released later this year.

Open-sourcing Rackspace's code will increase the rate of innovation around it, and eliminate lock-in fears among clients, which is one of the biggest obstacles to the adoption of cloud services, said Mark Collier, vice president of business development. "If we're accelerating the industry, that's good for us," he said.

OpenStack will be available under the Apache 2.0 license, with RackSpace employees serving as project leads, Collier said. But the governance framework has been deliberately structured to give others plenty of say, he added.

In addition, anyone will be able to take the code and form an offshoot, or "fork," he added.

Meanwhile, NASA is happy to see its code included in OpenStack because if the platform matures enough, it could save the government valuable resources, said Chris Kemp, CTO of IT for the space agency.

"Our perfect scenario is to get out of the cloud R&D business altogether," he said. "That would be a great day, if we can bake enough of NASA's requirements into OpenStack. It gets us back into the space exploration business."

OpenStack will need additional backing in order to succeed, but an ecosystem already seems to be forming. Chip makers Advanced Micro Devices and Intel, server giant Dell, virtualization specialist Citrix, and cloud management tools vendors Cloudkick and Rightscale are involved, among others.

Overall, the initial signs are positive for OpenStack, Forrester Research analyst James Staten said in a blog post Monday.

OpenStack will be going up against an ever-burgeoning pack of would-be cloud platform providers, such as VMWare and CA Technologies, but it's unclear whether those companies can provide "the robust feature set provided by some of the leading public IaaS [infrastructure as a service] platform clouds today," he said. "The short answer is we really don't know. While each claim a few customer references - whether named or not - few really portray a story of maturity yet."

Meanwhile, OpenStack may have "the more credible story enterprise infrastructure & operations professionals have been waiting on," given Rackspace's stature in the public IaaS market, Staten said.

And NASA's involvement could help convince enterprise and government customers that OpenStack is a good fit for their needs, versus just service providers, according to Staten.

Another observer also saw good odds for OpenStack.

"Rackspace, while certainly not the name of an Amazon in the cloud, has an excellent reputation as a host, and NASA's engineering pedigree certainly doesn't hurt," said Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady.

It makes sense for Rackspace to open-source its code, even if it means rival hosting providers could use it, O'Grady said.

"First, Rackspace is not in the software business, nor do they presumably want to be in the software business. And giving away software that is non-differentiating or a core focus for them is just common practice these days," he said.

"Second, one of the throttles for cloud adoption is incompatibility. Each cloud environment looks different than the last," he said. "So it can be difficult for customers to transition workloads to the Rackspace cloud. By making that software freely available, customers could run it privately, then migrate freely back and forth."

Rackspace will compete with other hosting providers "on the effectiveness of their infrastructure, as they always have," he said.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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Chris Kanaracus

IDG News Service
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