Monday, April 30, 2012

OpenStack gains momentum in Open Source Cloud Platform

Rackspace, in partnership with NASA, began its efforts to create an open source platform for the cloud back in 2010. Unlike other standards efforts that were already underway, OpenStack provided actual software providers with the ability to create their own cloud products. Since that time, dozens of companies, like Dell, IBM, and Cisco, have joined the effort to create a common cloud infrastructure. Although Rackspace has been a vocal proponent of the platform, until now the company leveraged the proprietary SliceHost technology it acquired a four years ago as the basis of its product cloud portfolio.

As noted on Midsize Insider, Hewlett-Packard (HP) announced the launch of its OpenStack-based cloud product family weeks before Rackspace. However, Rackspace's move is likely to garner more industry attention. Not only is Rackspace one of the first contributors to OpenStack, it is also the biggest cloud infrastructure provider after Amazon Web Services (AWS). Any missteps by Rackspace could have a tremendous impact on industry adoption of the open source cloud operating system, which is why the company is being cautious in its deployment strategy.

According to CMSWire, Rackspace is allowing registration for Cloud Servers, the company's core offering, and will begin providing access on May 1, 2012. Rackspace has not provided firm dates for other products in the portfolio. The cloud-based MySQL offering, Cloud Databases, and monitoring solution, Cloud Monitoring, are in early access, which signifies that the products are "production workload ready but have limited support available, no service commitments and no billing."

The remaining products, Cloud Control Panel, Cloud Block Storage, and Cloud Networks, are available in preview. Nobody is surprised that Rackspace is transitioning its cloud products to OpenStack; however, most industry insiders did not expect the company to move so quickly. Rackspace might have felt pressure to move forward after Citrix abandoned OpenStack in favor CloudStack, another open source cloud standardization effort.

All of the activity around OpenStack and other cloud standardization efforts isn't just a clever marketing exercise or a petty feud among technology companies. Cloud use has increased rapidly, but cloud standards are still in an embryonic state. In fact, it was only last year that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) approved a common definition of cloud computing. Programming interfaces, architecture, storage strategy, and almost every other aspect of cloud services can vary among vendors. This lack of mature standards can make it extremely difficult and expensive for organizations to move between cloud providers if they are unsatisfied with a vendor or their needs change.

Until standards are defined and widely accepted, businesses using the cloud are at a relatively high risk for vendor, data and solution lock-in. These risks are common with new and emerging technology. However, the cloud can amplify these challenges because of how broadly and deeply the technology can be integrated. The risk only grows as organizations store more data and build more solutions in the cloud. The impact of these issues goes beyond technology teams. Challenges moving between cloud vendors or services can also reduce business agility and competiveness by increasing the time, effort, and investment required to modify solutions and processes.

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