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Cloud Crossroads: Which Way PaaS?

As allies and competitors line up behind the new Cloud Foundry Foundation, where does that leave Red Hat and its support of OpenStack and Project Solum?

up behind Cloud Foundry, they were financing its ongoing development. Until Cloud Foundry was separated from VMware, they wouldn't have done such a thing. Once VMware/Pivotal relinquished control, it became a candidate for broader support, just as OpenStack had after Rackspace relinquished control of it.

The enlistment of Red Hat's ally, Rackspace, must also have been a bitter pill. Asked to comment on these developments, a Red Hat spokesman said, "Thanks for reaching out about this. We are going to respectfully decline to comment at this time."

On Feb. 24, the same day that Maritz announced independent governance for Cloud Foundry, IBM announced its BlueMix PaaS that will be "built on open standards and take advantage of Cloud Foundry." As a backer of OpenStack, Red Hat might have anticipated IBM would want to work with Project Solum in creating PaaS on OpenStack. Its embrace of the VMware/Pivotal PaaS was another blow.

It appeared that key OpenStack developers and member companies had decided, en masse, to place their primary PaaS bet on Cloud Foundry, not Project Solum or some future combination of Solum and OpenShift.

Won't Cloud Foundry and OpenShift both continue to exist? Can't they coexist as competing open-source options far into the future? Joshua McKenty, the CTO of Piston, a leading OpenStack distributor, doesn't think so. In an email message Tuesday, he said he will bet $10 that "Red Hat will join the Cloud Foundry Foundation by the end of the year."

"Solum is a stalking horse for Red Hat. They are trying to use it to inject OpenShift into OpenStack. It has no independent momentum. For a project to succeed inside OpenStack, and in almost all open source, it needs a use case and sponsors putting money behind it, and Solum doesn't have either."

McKenty made less blunt but similar comments to cloud blogger Ben Kepes, posted on Forbes.com Feb. 26. Red Hat declined when asked to respond to McKenty's comments.

Not so fast, said Alex Freedland, co-founder and chairman of Mirantis, an OpenStack consulting firm, in a phone interview. Red Hat has formidable development resources of its own and is "highly motivated to see OpenShift succeed." Without OpenShift, Red Hat's path to the cloud becomes unclear. It's an operating system vendor, but in the cloud, virtualization is the visible layer and Linux disappears behind management consoles and virtual machine managers. If Red Hat doesn't have an opportunity to provide software above the operating system, its future looks limited.

Freedland said Solum isn't left out in the cold just because the Cloud Foundry Foundation has formed. "I don't know how long before it's useful, but Red Hat is actually moving it along at a decent pace," he said.

The question, he said, is whether Red Hat can attract a following of developers that will rival the lineup now behind Cloud Foundry. So far, Red Hat is making 30% of the code contributions to Solum; Rackspace is making 22%; and Numergy, 20%. It's best if the primary sponsor of an open source project contributes 20%, with other parties making up the balance. It's taken as a sign of a healthy project, said Freedland. But Rackspace as a board member may move its developer contribution effort over to Cloud Foundry. Company spokesman were queried, but did not respond in time for this article.

Likewise, Solum is likely to lose IBM's contributions. It was in the second tier of contributors, along with Suse and Mirantis. With Red Hat competitor Canonical now in the Cloud Foundry camp, Suse may deem it wise to likewise join. Instead of decreasing, Red Hat's share of the contributions to Solum may rise steeply.

Cloud Foundry is likely to have its own issues to work out. There are now powerful vendors who might like to develop Cloud Foundry products that generate revenue, but so far the only one successfully doing so is Pivotal. If Pivotal keeps its primary position as other vendors help develop the PaaS, then IBM and the others may want to rethink their commitment. But that equation was already clear as they signed up, and IBM, HP, and SAP tend to use open source as a means toward building a larger system, versus as a product in itself.

So the future of open-source PaaS is now anyone's guess. Will Red Hat sustain Solum, even if it has to work with a shrunken community, or will it throw in the towel, as McKenty suggested? OpenStack, Solum, and its new expertise in Docker containerization all indicate Red Hat will make a fight of it and try to keep open its own path into the cloud.

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