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OpenStack development finds big growing pains

It's been an interesting past few weeks for OpenStack.

The open-source project for building cloud deployments began two years ago as a partnership between Rackspace and NASA and has blossomed to include more than 150 companies and more than 2,000 contributing developers. OpenStack reached a milestone on Thursday, with the fifth release of its software, code named Essex, which a variety of OpenStack supporters say brings the project to a new level of maturity, interoperability with other cloud providers and ease of use.

But cracks are starting to show.

Then, the first fissure came in late March when Eucalyptus, which is an open-source project for building private clouds, announced an agreement with Amazon Web Services that will expand interoperability between Eucalyptus' private clouds and AWS' public cloud services. The move threw the support of market leader AWS behind an open source project that is not OpenStack.

Then, this week came the "bombshell" as Gartner analyst Lydia Leong called it: Citrix announced it is bringing its cloud building platform named CloudStack -- which it purchased last year for a reported $200 million from Cloud.com -- into the Apache Software Foundation, in effect creating a competing open source model to OpenStack.

READ: Citrix ditches OpenStack for Apache

READ: OpenStack supporters downplay Citrix defection

The rock throwing began. The day of the Citrix announcement, OpenStack officials shot back and downplayed the move and touted the momentum, strength and diversity of the OpenStack movement.

So, where does all this news leave OpenStack development? Supporters of the project say they will keep on trucking. But some analysts believe the news from Citrix could dramatically change the open-source cloud game. "This puts more pressure on OpenStack, that's for sure," said James Staten, a Forrester researcher.

OpenStack's release prior to Essex, code-named Diablo, last fall was underwhelming, Staten says and "it started a clock in a lot of people's eyes: When will they have something that's ready to deploy?" More than a third of businesses surveyed by Forrester say they have money in their budgets to spend on cloud deployments this year. "They don't want to wait," he says. "They're ready to go." OpenStack officials are optimistic about the Essex release. But, Staten says the true test of OpenStack progress and market standing will be judged by enterprise and cloud service provider adoption.

READ: OpenStack Essex release is most stable yet, supporters say

"This is a great release, I think one thing we've really moved the bar on is the level of integration between the projects that have been developed so far, and really allowing for a more seamless operation," says Josh McKenty, one of the co-founders of the OpenStack project who has started his own company, Piston Cloud Computing, which sells enterprise-grade cloud systems and support based on the OpenStack software.

Essex does have a number of improvements compared to previous releases. OpenStack is broken down into a series of projects, called "core" projects, meaning the OpenStack community judges them to be advanced to a certain level of maturity. Other projects are in an "incubator" status, meaning they are still in development. In prior releases, the core projects have been related to compute power, code named Nova; object storage, code named Swift; and Image service, code named Glance.

Essex elevates two incubator projects to core status: The identity service named Keystone, and the user interface dashboard named Horizon. These features allow a for a single user credential for the various aspects of the deployment, and for a common user interface across deployments. Both advancements are meant to increase ease of use and interoperability.

Essex also adds a new project to incubator status: Quantum, which is the code name for networking support that coordinates the connections between the projects in a virtualized and automated way. Quantum is expected to advance to a core project by OpenStack's next release, named Folsom in the fall.

While there are a number of additions in Essex, there are also some things taken out. Most notable of these is support for the Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisor. There just wasn't the support from the developer community to advance Hyper-V compatibility, so it was dropped, says Kenneth Pepple, director of cloud development at Internap and a contributor to the OpenStack code.

As features will undoubtedly continue to be added to OpenStack as it matures, news that Hyper-V support is dropped show that features can be taken away too. And with the news from Citrix this week, there could be some question of what that could mean for support for the XenServer in OpenStack, which is made by Citrix. Krishnan Subramanian, a blogger and researcher at says it would be "suicidal" for OpenStack to migrate away from Xen.

"It is in the interest of both Citrix and OpenStack that they work together on Xen hypervisor front," he says. "The VMware hypervisor support in OpenStack is also not mature because VMware is not officially supporting OpenStack." So, he says, OpenStack can't afford to lose XenServer support and support only KVM. McKenty, from Piston Cloud, says that is not at risk of happening. Rackspace uses Xen, so there is a community to support its functionality in OpenStack, he notes. Meanwhile, CloudStack backers are promoting their system as being "hyper-visor agnostic." In a response posted on a Network World article, Peder Ulander of Citrix writes that CloudStack supports KVM, OVM, XenServer and Hyper-V support is expected to come later this year.

Nonetheless, the Citrix news this week has highlighted some schisms between OpenStack and CloudStack, namely in the support for Amazon Web Services offerings. While OpenStack backers note that interoperability with AWS APIs is expanded in the compute and storage functions in the Essex release, CloudStack and Eucalyptus have taken a different approach. In announcing the Apache license for CloudStack, Citrix GM for cloud platforms Sameer Dholakia, made it clear that one of the major functions a Citrix cloud offering will be to have AWS compatibility. Eucalyptus and AWS's joint announcement solidifies their commitment to compatibility.

The open source cloud debate is clearly on, and it will continue to play out in the future. OpenStack and CloudStack officials have even both said their projects can coexist, and there may even be room for them to work with each other. Overall though the Citrix move ultimately means more players in the open source cloud game. And that is a good thing for end users, says Shawn Edmondson of rPath, a cloud services provider.

"More choice is a good thing in cloud stacks," he says. "With two strong open-source cloud stacks, we have competition to keep the contenders moving, but not the redundant effort and wheel-reinvention that would result from having too many stacks."

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social media. He can be reached at [email protected] and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.


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