OpenStack Open Source Cloud Needs To Pick Up The Pace

The OpenStack open source cloud platform is maturing rapidly, as evidenced by the just-concluded OpenStack Conference here in San Francisco. But OpenStack has a few bridges to cross and hurdles to jump before it becomes a real market force.

As I wrote on Thursday in my first thoughts from the OpenStack conference, the OpenStack platform itself isn’t designed to take on either Amazon Web Services or VMware. It’s designed to meet a rising need for an open cloud platform that ensures standardization and intercompatibility across private and public environments and service providers.

Philosophically speaking, that’s laudable. But it understates the importance of service providers to the OpenStack community. No, perhaps OpenStack isn’t designed to take on Amazon Web Services. But when Rackspace, HP and Dell are all deploying their public cloud services on top of OpenStack, then yes, OpenStack is competing with Amazon Web Services. When Piston Cloud or Mirantis helps an enterprise deploy a private cloud, they’re competing with VMware and its vSphere platform.

In short, as Gartner analyst Kyle Hilgendorf put it on Twitter: “OpenStack wants to be the enterprise IaaS…then that means they ARE competing with VMware and AWS…plain and simple.”

And as another Twitter wag put it, saying that OpenStack doesn’t compete with VMware is a bit like saying that Linux doesn’t compete with Windows – Debian and Red Hat do. Technically accurate, but not in a meaningful way.

The other thing that’s standing in OpenStack’s way is simply the maturity of the platform and community, or lack thereof. OpenStack promises openness, but Rackspace Hosting still holds the pursestrings (for now). OpenStack promises a lack of vendor lock-in, but as Hilgendorf pointed out in a blog entry, there’s simply too much complexity in moving between OpenStack clouds and hypervisors to let that go unquestioned.

“Customers will find it difficult to lift and shift from Rackspace to HP or OpenStack Provider X because of the effort involved to learn, train, and deploy their solutions into a new management portal,” Hilgendorf writes.

This lack of maturity is represented in the fact that while OpenStack had customers like eBay and Radio Free Asia on hand to discuss how the platform has helped build or accelerate their core business, it seemed like the majority of the thousand or so attendees were either contributing developers or the curious, in various stages of OpenStack testing. During a panel discussion, a handful of VCs discussed how they fully expect to see the OpenStack market explode, M&A action and all – but it hasn’t happened yet, and their investments in OpenStack-based startups are virtually nonexistent.

I’m reliably informed that OpenStack is the fastest-growing open source movement in history, and I have no doubt that the community is going to move quickly to plug holes in the platform, ease deployment and migration, and generally develop both their technology and business cases.

But in the meanwhile, VMware and Amazon Web Services show no sign of slowing down, and even Citrix CloudStack has the edge of having been a production-ready commercial product before it was turned over to the Apache Foundation and completely open-sourced. The momentum is impressive, but OpenStack still isn’t the standard that the community wants it to be.