OpenStack, Open Source and the ‘Linux of the Cloud’

It’s happening to cloud computing, just as it did for desktop OS – the rise of open source.

A decade ago, big companies like IBM were only starting to think about moving away from the proprietary OS giant, Windows, and moving to Linux. In an October 2003 article at The Inquirer, the rise of open source operating systems was described as “unstoppable”, and the multiple “flavors” of Linux are now considered almost ubiquitous in IT environments. The first steps into cloud computing have largely mirrored those of desktop OSs; big providers first offered their own proprietary versions of public and private clouds, citing ease of management as an acceptable trade-off for some lack of control but now options like the OpenStack cloud OS are hoping to widen the market and provide companies a solution they can tailor to their needs.

openstack linux

An August 7, 2012 article from GigaOM talks about inroads being made by OpenStack founding project member Rackspace – the company initially landed a contract with NASA for the use of their open source cloud platform, and now has eBay on board as well.  This has led to a best-ever second quarter for the company, and they’ve added a new tagline – “the open cloud company” – to their name. HP, Dell, AT&T and Deutsche Telekom have all built public clouds on OpenStack and the OS is now starting to challenge even established providers like VMware and Amazon Web Services.

The OpenStack project isn’t without criticism, however, as some have accused Rackspace of too tightly controlling its mandate, prompting them to release the project to an independent foundation, and with almost 200 companies contributing to OpenStack’s development, there’s also concern that its development will be too slow for business users or may lead to the same kind of split that happened with Unix. Enterprise provider Citrix, for example, an early OpenStack adopter, eventually cut ties with the project to focus on developing their own solution, CloudStack, as a competitor.

Despite minor hiccups, open source is coming to the cloud – that much is clear – but how much of an impact it will have depends largely on how end users embrace the idea. A company looking to make a move to the cloud can now pick and choose not only their provider but what kind of cloud they want and how much control they want to have over its deployment; although the market may not yet have reached the same tipping point as Linux a decade ago, there’s little doubt that open source clouds like OpenStack will help inform the development of cloud solutions moving forward. For companies taking their first steps in the cloud or upgrading an existing deployment, open source is something to consider – though it doesn’t come risk-free.