OpenStack's prospects: Red Hat, VMware agree to disagree

OpenStack will either change the cloud computing universe or be a muddled mess. Red Hat and VMware execs square off.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

OpenStack, a cloud platform started by Rackspace and NASA, is either the biggest virally growing open software movement since Linux or a murky hodge podge of technologies that could flop.

It all depends on what tech vendors you ask and the horses they have in the cloud architecture race.

Most of the horses---at least the vocal ones---to date appear to be on the pro-OpenStack side of the equation. Rackspace's recent first quarter results highlight the power of OpenStack. Rackspace's first quarter and outlook illustrate the power of OpenStack. Rackspace's quarter was a disappointment, but Wall Street analysts kept gushing about the power of OpenStack.

Here's a look at the Red Hat vs. VMware sides of the OpenStack equation and the reality check provided by Virtual Instruments CEO John Thompson, a 40 year tech industry vet and former chief of Symantec. Executives were talking cloud infrastructure at a Jefferies technology conference in New York.

The bullish take

Brian Stevens, CTO of Red Hat, said "only Linux has developed as virally with the community as OpenStack." Two years ago, Rackspace and NASA said they were going to build cloud infrastructure openly and OpenStack has "lit up in terms of mindshare."

"Customers around the globe have heard of this thing," said Stevens.

Note that Red Hat is OpenStack's third largest contributor. Rackspace has moved OpenStack into an independent foundation and enterprises are hot to figure out how to deliver Amazon Web Services-like clouds internally.

Stevens' take isn't hard to replicate. HP has validated OpenStack with its public cloud infrastructure. At Temple University's 12th annual IT awards in Philadelphia, Adrian Gardner, CIO at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, told me his organization is rolling out OpenStack at scale. NASA released contributed code, let the open developer community run with it and now is pulling in the software to scale cloud operations.

Meanwhile, dozens of technology vendors are on the OpenStack bandwagon. Stevens argued that OpenStack could become a standard.

The pessimistic view

It's obvious Stevens was rooting for OpenStack. He has a horse in the cloud platform race and Red Hat could find a revenue stream from it. OpenStack often has Red Hat's enterprise software under it.

VMware's Raghu Raghuram, executive vice president of cloud infrastructure and management, isn't so sold on OpenStack. Of course, Raghuram also has a horse in the cloud platform race. VMware sees its VSphere as the cloud OS of choice. Today, VMware is a de facto cloud standard for hybrid and private cloud shops.

"What is OpenStack? It's hard to say what the stack is," said Raghuram. "Every vendor is saying something about OpenStack and its pieces."

Raghuram's point: The last time dozens of hardware and software vendors flocked to the latest greatest play was Xen, an open source hypervisor that was trumped by KVM.

Raghuram said there are two outcomes for OpenStack. It will either develop like Linux or it'll go the route of Xen. "OpenStack needs to define clear boundaries about what it is," said Raghuram. "It's a long ways from that and a significant work in progress." He added that some customers are using OpenStack on top of VSphere.

Meanwhile, Raghuram gloated that Rackspace, the champion of OpenStack, "is using a lot of VMware" for its hosting business.

The reality check

Thompson provided a nice reality check between the Red Hat and VMware camps on OpenStack. "We don't have a dog in this hunt," said Thompson. "But profits follow architectural control. There's no way any vendor would allow a discussion about standards to go without a say."

That last comment highlights why every tech vendor and their moms are involved with OpenStack somehow.

In the end, Thompson argued that customers will push for interoperability between public and private clouds.

Ultimately, the OpenStack debate revolves around architecture control. "This industry has evolved around big profit pools controlled by a particular architecture," said Thompson. "That isn't going to change. The tech industry runs the same play every 10 years."

Stevens and Raghuram smiled when Thompson outlined his take. "Because you don't have a dog in this fight you can be more open," quipped Raghuram.


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