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Rackspace's Risky Open Cloud Bet

Rackspace's Risky Open Cloud Bet

Rackspace's collaboration with NASA on an open source venture "is interesting first because it's another market entrant in the growing stack of cloud middleware offerings, but also because Rackspace's decision to release its cloud software as open source software flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which says this is an asset to be protected, not shared," noted RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady.

By Katherine Noyes
07/20/10 5:00 AM PT

Rackspace Hosting on Monday announced the launch of OpenStack, an open source cloud platform designed to foster technology standards and cloud interoperability.

NASA is collaborating on the project.

Rackspace is donating the code that powers its Cloud Files and Cloud Servers public-cloud offerings to OpenStack, while NASA will provide the technology that powers the NASA Nebula Cloud Platform.

Through joint technology development, Rackspace and NASA plan to leverage the efforts of open source software developers worldwide.

"We are founding the OpenStack initiative to help drive industry standards, prevent vendor lock-in and generally increase the velocity of innovation in cloud technologies," said Lew Moorman, president for cloud technology and CSO at Rackspace. "We expect ongoing collaboration with NASA and the rest of the community to drive more-rapid cloud adoption and innovation in the private and public spheres."

OpenStack Design Summit

OpenStack will feature several cloud infrastructure components. Among them is a fully distributed object store -- available immediately -- that's based on Rackspace Cloud Files.

The next component, which is slated for release later this year, will be a scalable compute-provisioning engine based on NASA's Nebula cloud technology and Rackspace Cloud Servers technology.

Using these components, organizations will be able to turn physical hardware into scalable and extensible cloud environments using "the same code currently in production serving tens of thousands of customers and large government projects," Rackspace said.

Earlier this month, Rackspace hosted an OpenStack Design Summit to validate the code and ratify the project road map. More than 25 companies took part, including AMD, Autonomic Resources, Citrix, Cloud.com, Cloudkick, Cloudscaling, CloudSwitch, Dell, enStratus, FathomDB and Intel.

Rackspace and NASA have both committed to using OpenStack to power their cloud platforms, and Rackspace will dedicate open source developers and resources to support adoption of OpenStack among enterprises and service providers.

'Flies in the Face of Conventional Wisdom'

"OpenStack is an interesting set of technologies that provides a foundation for cloud-type services," RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady told LinuxInsider.

The new announcement "is interesting first because it's another market entrant in the growing stack of cloud middleware offerings, but also because Rackspace's decision to release its cloud software as open source software flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which says this is an asset to be protected, not shared," O'Grady added.

"Rackspace, not being in the business of primarily selling software, sees an opportunity to grow the market and revenues in its core businesses via open source software," he concluded.

'Big for Open Source Software'

Indeed, "this is a big move for Rackspace, which is open sourcing significant parts of its own cloud computing infrastructure and technology," 451 Group analyst Jay Lyman pointed out. "It's also big for open source software, which is used fairly heavily among most cloud computing technology and service providers, but which does not typically get highlighted or mentioned that much."

In addition, the news is notable for the collaboration with NASA, "which is getting better at being able to open source the code it develops," Lyman told LinuxInsider.

"We expect to see more use of open source in cloud computing and more providers opening their own code and initiating their own open source projects," Lyman noted.

'A Mighty Risky Bet'

Which cloud platforms come to dominate, of course, remains to be seen.

"OpenStack is just one more entrant in what is becoming a very crowded space," Paul Burns, president of Neovise, told LinuxInsider. "I don't necessarily see it becoming dominant -- it will take another couple years to sort out the true winners and losers."

Strategically, Rackspace is "trying to change the competitive dynamics in the cloud computing space back to their bread and butter: operational efficiency and fanatical support," Burns noted.

"This is a mighty risky bet at this stage of evolution in the cloud computing industry -- they still have to compete with the likes of SoftLayer, which has leading automation capabilities and is a great fit for the enterprise, but Rackspace will no longer have direct control on the features, capabilities and innovations," he explained.

"Only time will tell if OpenStack will deliver innovations rapidly enough for those who adopt it to compete," Burns added.

Driving Innovation

It also remains to be seen if Rackspace's approach will prevail.

"Some commercial cloud service providers I speak with feel that the industry is going the other direction from the way Rackspace would like to see it go," Burns said. "They feel that they essentially need to become software companies or have an internal software company to drive innovation ahead.

"In my opinion, the software company approach is currently producing some of the greatest innovations," he asserted. "Time will tell which approach wins in the longer term."


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