Happy Birthday OpenStack! How did you grow up so fast?

In three years OpenStack has come out of nowhere to be one of the most popular cloud programs around. How did that happen? Jim Curry, one of OpenStack's founders, explains.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Three years ago, on July 19th, 2010, Rackspace and NASA introduced OpenStack. Then, it was just another cloud stack project, a promising one but only one among many. Fast forward to today and OpenStack's list of backers is a technology giant's who's who: HP, IBM, Red Hat, VMware, the list goes on and on. How did this happen?

Jim Curry, one of OpenStack's founders.

Jim Curry, one of OpenStack's founders, and today Rackspace's general manager of private cloud, explained how OpenStack exploded on the cloud science in a ZDNet interview.

"A couple of things came together," said Curry. "First, cloud technology and its form factor was hitting an infraction point. After several years, Amazon Web Services was just moving into the mainstream and people were looking for not just for an open-source alternative, but for any AWS alternative."

In addition, of course, OpenStack is open-source software and that also attracted many partners.

"When we launched, cloud technology was still immature." Besides, "We were all building our own clouds and there was no interoperability between clouds." Everyone knew this wouldn't work as a business model.

In many ways, OpenStack was simply the right technology at the right time. It also helped enormously, Curry thinks, that "Rackspace and NASA already had great reputations in servers and research respectively."

Last, but in no way least, "We marketed the heck out of it. Much of what OpenStack was when we launched was a promise. We worked hard on the marketing and partnering side. It then became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lots of users and vendors came in and wanted to work with OpenStack. We, as a community, did a good job of finding like-minded people and we built something that worked really well."

Even with all that, Curry never expected it to become as big as it is today. "I'm shocked at where it is today. We didn't have global ambitions for it. We were trying to solve specific cloud problems but everyone wanted to get involved. Today, it helps not only business IT, but humanity as a whole, with projects like CERN and genetics research. We're making the world a better place with open source."

"On the commercial end," Curry still sees "Amazon is who we compete with," rather than other open-source cloud efforts such as AWS-friendly Eucalyptus or CloudStack.

It's not just the public cloud that concerns Curry. He's found that OpenStack is being used to set up "Private clouds as internal competitors for AWS. OpenStack has exploded in the enterprise."

Some analysts still think Rackspace has a way to go before it has really taken off in the enterprise. RightScale's State of the Cloud 2013 survey (PDF Link) found that Rackspace is second only to AWS on the business public cloud and leads Eucalyptus and CloudStack on private cloud deployments.

One thing that is slowing down OpenStack is what Curry believes is slowing down all cloud deployments: "The enemy to how to move to DevOps. Switching to the cloud represents a fundamental change in IT architecture. Sure, you can treat the cloud as if it was just shared hosts, but if you do, you're missing the point that the service model is what makes the difference."

Looking ahead, Curry doesn't see big changes for OpenStack. "The next OpenStack version, Havana, which comes out in October, will not be adding much in the way of new features." Instead, "it will be much more about continuing to stabilize it and make it more manageable and even better for real deployments."

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