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OpenStack Poised For Cloud Leadership

OpenStack Foundation establishes board, development groups; organizes itself as self-sustaining non-profit.

The new OpenStack Foundation is taking shape as a potentially potent force in cloud computing. Its governing board has been elected, and working groups are accelerating development in eight technical areas. Perhaps more important, it has organized itself on a self-sustaining basis and now has $10 million in the bank to pursue its goals.

That could have made it a more formidable competitor to VMware, which has also been active in establishing the vSphere and vCloud product portfolio adopted by many of its customers. At VMworld, outgoing CEO Paul Maritz said VMware has 8,500 service providers offering a VMware-compatible virtualization environment, many of them small co-location and regional data center operators.

An early impetus behind OpenStack was to form a broad, united front on behalf of a competitive open source cloud stack before the market was swamped by VMware, a proprietary software vendor. That's why it was somewhat surprising, as the group got organized, when VMware applied to become a member. VMware's membership application followed up its July 23rd $1.26 billion acquisition of Nicira, a startup in the network virtualization space.

VMware said it would join shortly after the acquisition, but the OpenStack board didn't get around to accepting the application until Aug. 28. VMware became not just a member in good standing, but a gold member, meaning it is committed to supporting developer contributions. In VMware's case, that refers to developers at Nicira, a software-defined networking vendor and OpenStack's technical lead in virtualizing network services in the cloud.

[ How did Chris Kemp, former NASA CTO, advocate OpenStack as the open source alternative to VMware and other proprietary options? Read OpenStack Is Not A Proprietary Cloud, Kemp Argues. ]

The day the Nicira acquisition was announced, nobody was sure whether VMware would use it to aid or slow OpenStack's progress. VMware quickly resolved the issue by publicly announcing its plan to join the organization.

"There are a lot of members who compete with each other, yet contribute to the OpenStack code base," said Lew Tucker, CTO of cloud computing at Cisco and vice chairman of the board of directors of the foundation, in an interview with InformationWeek. "Nicira is a heavy contributor. We're confident they [will] keep contributing," he added.

VMware's decision to join OpenStack was "a very positive move," said Alan Clark, OpenStack's newly elected chairman of the board. By collaborating with OpenStack, he explained in an interview, VMware customers will end up with good interoperability between their on-premises virtualized environments and public cloud services. Clark is director of new initiatives, emerging standards and open source at the SUSE unit of Attachmate Group. (Attachmate acquired Novell, owner of SUSE Linux, in November 2010.)

OpenStack was originally formed in July 2010 by Rackspace and NASA, which combined their Swift storage engine and Nova cloud compute engine, respectively, to initiate a new cloud stack. NASA withdrew as an active sponsor of the project earlier this year, saying it no longer had the resources to co-develop cloud software.

That left Rackspace, a San Antonio-based vendor of hosting and cloud services, as the sole sponsor. Many observers wondered how an open source project could thrive with its organization impetus coming from a single vendor.

Rackspace itself was sensitive to the problem and transferred governance to a foundation patterned on the Linux Foundation and Apache Software Foundation, open source predecessors that successfully governed large projects.

OpenStack boasts 190 member companies, including 500 active contributors, and a total of 5,600 members. Individuals may join for free. The organization raises money by charging member companies for use of its logo in connection with their products: A startup two years old or less pays $10,000, while an established company pays $25,000. There are currently 36 active OpenStack user groups worldwide.

The OpenStack code base has been downloaded 300,000 times in the last two years, but there are few accurate measures of how many OpenStack implementations currently exist. More important than downloads are the distributions of OpenStack cloud software as part of the Canonical Ubuntu Linux and of Attachmate SUSE Linux.

OpenStack was envisioned as a common code base on which both public service suppliers and private companies could build a cloud infrastructure, sharing common approaches to services and APIs. Currently, Rackspace, eBay's R&D group, and HP's Enterprise Cloud Services are among its implementers.

Find out the nine questions you must ask before migrating apps to the public cloud in the Cloud Ready? special issue of InformationWeek. Also in this issue: It's time to lay to rest two common myths of the cloud computing era. (Free registration required.)

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