For those of you who are either generally interested or perhaps following from afar, it has certainly been difficult to miss the numerous goings-on within the OpenStack community over this last couple of weeks.
In what could yet turn out to be the biggest soap opera to appear out of Texas since “Dallas”, there is certainly no shortage of drama – the core OpenStack products continue makes some very interesting feature additions, big OEM vendor interest continues to grow while at the same time the major production company, Rackspace, lost one of its and OpenStack’s A-list actors, Rick Clark, who is leaving to take a new starring role at Cisco.
Irrespective of the politics and water cooler discussions of conspiracies around hidden and forced agendas (which I am not going to be drawn on in this post) it really doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there are potentially very significant revenue opportunities to be gained from OpenStack for at least two of the major backers, Rackspace and Citrix. The former have already snapped up Anso Labs (now rebranded as Cloud Builders) and the latter have openly displayed OpenStack as a core part of their go-forward cloud offerings.
No harm, no foul in concept. Building monetized offerings on top of open source components isn’t exactly a new strategy – just ask Red Hat – their latest results seem to attest to the fact that it is a pretty solid idea, but I am more than a little concerned about the challenge facing the slew of other “cloud platform” providers as this space begins to flourish and gravitate towards the Apache-licensed OpenStack. Is there room for all of them to succeed if they play the contribution game ? What would a solid strategy, one that makes money, of course, look like when your product is in direct competition with an open source juggernaut thundering toward you with full headlights glaring ?
Even though the cloud platform market, in my humble opinion, is still very young, there is already a definite juxtaposition. Without naming names, there are some cloud platform providers who are in the OpenStack boat and some who are stood on the quayside. The ones in the boat are contributing, how comfortably and how thoroughly, I could not gauge. The ones on the quayside are watching, waiting, either hoping that the boat sinks without trace (therefore giving them the opportunity to continue on their chartered course) or praying that the boat doesn’t move too far, too quickly, allowing them to be thrown a rope ladder to let them climb aboard.
Many of the potential OpenStack customers (and certainly the analyst proponents) out there may see the promise of OpenStack as a relatively solid opportunity for yet further commodotization of cloud, but by that very defintion it implies fungibility, which in turn will require the cloud platform providers to think hard about their value propositions over and above the commodity. But what is that ? Service and support ? DevOps ? Security ? Automagic-lights-out-distributions-that-turns-your-hardware-into-a-cloud-before-you-can-say-open-sesame ? Possibly.
Leading Edge Forum researcher and Clouderati alma mater, Simon Wardley, began to explore the potential clashes of provider product strategies in this blog post from July 2010. In the write up, Wardley correctly predicts that Eucalyptus (under the steady hand of Marten Mickos) would join the OpenStack throng, but he also gives a stern warning:
However, in general it’s not a good time to be any other infrastructure cloud technology vendor
I’m not going to broadly disagree with Simon, but I think it actually might be an ok time, if the strategy for the vendor is accepting and cogniscent of the potential effect that OpenStack might have on their business plan. That would be a smart move, I would say. The tough bit, obviously, will be to formulate a winning strategy while the rest of the OpenStack product set is maturing and quite fluid. Perhaps the best strategy will be to have a flexible strategy that can be agile and malleable to deal with the bumps in the road that are inevitable with any new, fast-growing ecosystem.
For those in the boat with established multi-hypervisor cloud platform products of their own, there is a potential that they risk a choice of being restricted, in the name of alignment, to the features inherent in the OpenStack components or willingly take on levels of additional complexity in managing a bifurcated product, simultaneously providing OpenStack features alongside the existing features of their current solution which indeed may be significantly more powerful than those that Nova, for example, can offer today.
For those on the quayside, there is a potential that they risk a choice, quite literally, of missing the boat. Is it a viable strategy to continue to develop a core product in a vacuum, beholden to the vagaries and nuances of the hypervisor vendors without the power of a solid, trusted and respected community ? I’m not suggesting this will happen, but it is not beyond of the realms of possibility that certain hypervisor vendors might make fundamental changes to their APIs which, in turn, affects the functionality of a product built on top of them. We’ve seen that movie before.
The last thing I want to see as a cloud believer is a bunch of smart people in smart cloud platform provider companies get dragged into a price war against the big boys due to a lack of innovation, borne out of a stagnant, suffocated, overloaded market segment. The volume-at-low-price simply will not exist for many of the startups, sadly.
The OpenStack Design Summit in April 2011 will be an interesting, watershed event. Even though the products are a long way from being a complete, slick solution, there is a lot riding on it even at this early stage. For the reasons I have endeavored to cover in this post, I believe this is why OpenStack can not, will not and should not be allowed to fail – or worse still, fork. That would be simply be a disaster of Titanic proportion.
The smart cloud platform providers are already in the proverbial crow’s nest, binculars at the ready, looking for icebergs. If anyone wants me, I will be here, on the bow, in my deck shoes and straw hat waiting for Celine Dion to open up her pipes.
Now, where’s my cocktail ?