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VMware’s OpenStack Hook-up: Analysis & Comments

There are risks to the community in VMware’s involvement, but on the balance this could be a pivotal event.

VMware has applied to join the OpenStack Foundation, potentially giving the burgeoning open source cloud stack movement a huge dose of credibility in the enterprise. There are risks to the community in VMware’s involvement, of course, but on the balance this could be a pivotal event. There is an alternative explanation, which I will hit at the end, but it’s a pretty exciting development no matter VMware’s true motivations.

VMware has been the leading actor for cloud computing in the enterprise. Most “private clouds” today run vSphere, and many service providers have used their VMware capabilities to woo corporate IT managers. While the mass-market providers like Amazon and Rackspace are built on open source hypervisors (typically Xen though KVM is becoming more important), the enterprise cloud is still an ESXi hypervisor stronghold.

Soapbox Rant: Despite the fact that most of the enterprise identifies VMware as their private cloud supplier, a very large majority of claimed “private clouds” are really nothing more than virtualized infrastructure. Yes, we are still fighting the “virtualization does not equal cloud” fight in the 2nd half of 2012. On the “Journey to the Cloud,” most VMware private clouds are still in the Phase I or early Phase II stages and nowhere near a fully elastic and end-to-automated environment driven by a flexible service catalog etc.

VMware’s vCloud program includes a lot of components, old and new, anchored by the vCloud Director (“vCD”) cloud management environment. vCD is a fairly rich cloud management solution, with APIs, and several interesting features and add-ons (such as vCloud Connector).

vCD today competes directly with OpenStack Compute (Nova) and related modules. However, it is not really all that widely used in the enterprises (I have yet to find a production vCD cloud but I know they exist). Sure, there are plenty of vCD installations out there, but I’m pretty sure that adoption has been nowhere near where VMware had hoped (queue the VMware fan boys).

From early days, OpenStack has supported the ESXi hypervisor (while giving Microsoft’s Hyper-V a cold shoulder). It’s a simple calculus – if OpenStack wants to operate in the enterprise, ESXi support is not optional.

With VMware’s overtures to the OpenStack community, if that is what this is, it is possible that the future of vCloud Director could be very tied to the future of OpenStack. OpenStack innovation seems to be rapidly outpacing vCD, which looks very much like a project suffering from bloated development processes and an apparent lack of innovation. At some point it may have become obvious to people well above the vCD team that OpenStack’s momentum and widespread support could no longer be ignored in a protectionist bubble.

If so, VMware should be commended for their courage and openness to support external technology that competes with one of their strategic product investments from the past few years. VMware would be joining the following partial list of OpenStack backers with real solutions in (or coming to) the market:

  • Rackspace
  • Red Hat
  • Canonical
  • Dell
  • Cloudscaling
  • Piston
  • Nebula
  • StackOps


Assuming the future is a converged vCD OpenStack distro (huge assumption), and that VMware is really serious about backing the OpenStack movement, the guys at Rackspace deserve a huge round of applause. Let’s explore some of the potential downstream impacts of this scenario:

  • The future of non-OpenStack cloud stacks is even more in doubt. Vendors currently enjoying some commercial success that are now under serious threat of “nichification” or irrelevancy, include: Citrix (CloudStack), Eucalyptus, BMC (Cloud Lifecycle Management), and… well, is there really anybody else? You’re either an OpenStack distro, and OpenStack extension, or an appliance embedding OpenStack if you want to succeed. At least until some amazingly new innovation comes along to kill it. OpenStack is to CloudStack as Linux is to SCO? Or perhaps FreeBSD?
    • Just weigh the non-OpenStack community against OpenStack’s “who’s who” list above. If you’re a non-OpenStack vendor and you are not scared yet, you may be already dead but just not know it.
    • As with Linux v. Unix, there will be a couple of dominant offerings and a lot of niche plays supporting specific workload patterns.  And there will be niche offerings that are not OpenStack.  In the long run, however, the bulk of the market will go to OpenStack.
  • The automation vendors (BMC, IBM, CA, HP) will need to embrace and extend OpenStack to stay in the game. Mind you, there is a LOT of potential value to what you can do with these tools. Patch management and compliance is just scratching the surface (though you can use Chef for that too, of course). Lots of governance, compliance, integration, and related opportunities for big markets here, and potentially all more lucrative and open to differentiated value. I’ve been telling my friends at BMC this for the past couple of years – perhaps I’ve got to get a bit more vociferous…
  • The OpenStack startups are in a pretty tough position right now. The OpenStack ecosystem has become it’s own pretty frothy and shark-filled “red ocean,” and the noise from the big guys – Rackspace, Red Hat, VMware, Dell, etc. – will be hard to overcome. I foresee a handful of winners, some successful pivots, and the inevitable failures (VCs invest in risk, right?). There are a lot of very smart people working at these startups, and at cloudTP we work with several of them, so I wouldn’t count any of them out yet. But in the long run, if the history of open source is any indicator, the market can’t support 10+ successful OpenStack software vendors.
  • Most importantly, it is my opinion that OpenStack WILL be the enterprise choice in the next 2-3 years. Vendors who could stop this – including VMware and Microsoft – are not getting it done (Microsoft is particularly missing the boat on the cloud stack layer). We’ll see the typical adoption curve with the most aggressive early adopters deploying OpenStack today and driving ecosystem innovation.
  • Finally, with the cloud stack battle all but a foregone conclusion, the battle for the PaaS layer is ripe for a blowout. And unlike the IaaS stack layer, the PaaS market will be a lot less commoditized in the near future.  There is so much opportunity for differentiation and innovation here that we will all have a lot to keep track of in the coming years.

Alternative Explanations

Perhaps I am wrong and the real motivation here for VMware is to tactically protect their interests in the OpenStack project – ESXi integration, new features tied to the vSphere roadmap, etc. The vCD team may also be looking to leverage the OpenStack innovation curve and liberal licensing model (Apache) to find and port new capabilities to the proprietary VMware stack – getting the benefit of community development efforts without having to invent them.

My gut tells me, however, that this move by VMware will lead to a long-term and strategic commitment that will accelerate the OpenStack in the Enterprise market.

Either way, VMware’s involvement in OpenStack is sure to change the dynamic and market for cloud automation solutions.


(c) 2011 CloudBzz / TechBzz Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This post originally appeared at http://www.cloudbzz.com/. You can follow CloudBzz on Twitter @CloudBzz.

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More Stories By John Treadway

John Treadway is a Vice President at Cloud Technology Partners and has over 20 years of experience delivering technology and business solutions to domestic and global enterprises across multiple industries and sectors. As a senior enterprise technology and services executive, he has a successful track record of leading strategic cloud computing and data center initiatives. John is responsible for technology IP at Cloud Technology Partners, and is actively involved with client projects and strategic alliances. John is also an active blogger in the cloud computing space and authors the CloudBzz blog. Sites/Blogs CloudBzz

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