Competition for the private cloud heats up

Despite OpenStack’s continued growth, a combination of product updates and acquisitions from Citrix, Eucalyptus, Red Hat and VMware over the past week demonstrate that the race to become the dominant private cloud provider, as well as win over the enterprise, is far from over. Is one of these solutions “better” than the others? Not unequivocally, since each has characteristics that appeal to specific customers. OpenStack, for example, continues to attract attention with a good story about providing cloud infrastructure for all, including NASA and other strong partners; but VMware can leverage its significant installed base in the virtualization space to sell hard. Meanwhile, none of the others are standing still.

First, a quick recap on this week’s news:

  • Citrix. Citrix used VMworld this week to announce that the next version of the CloudStack product will be completely open source, rather than continuing to follow the less permissive open-core model of earlier releases (and competitor Eucalyptus). Citrix has an existing route into data centers with its networking and virtualization business, a strong product with real-world deployment and now an open-source story. Some doubts remain around the future relationship between CloudStack and OpenStack, despite explicit pledges of support. It’s also unclear how CloudStack fits with an earlier Citrix project: Project Olympus. At the end of the day making source code freely available for reuse is a worthy step, but it’s not one that will be decisive in driving the selection of a private cloud solution.
  • Red Hat. Red Hat is also pursuing an open-source line, leading what The Register describes as an “effort to succeed where OpenStack has struggled in building an open-source cloud founded on broad community input.” It’s difficult to interpret OpenStack’s growing mind share as evidence of “struggle,” but Red Hat’s multihypervisor, multicloud approach to Aeolus does represent a different take: Aeolus intends to bridge different environments in a permissive fashion. Red Hat has an interesting story to tell about freedom, flexibility and choice. But enterprises are far more likely to be looking for support, evidence of adoption elsewhere and a clear road map into the future. Interesting as it is technically and philosophically, Aeolus may not be the solution they need.
  • Eucalyptus. Back in May, as Ubuntu promoted OpenStack’s private cloud over previous favorite Eucalyptus, I wrote, “it is becoming increasingly unclear whether [Eucalyptus] has a compelling future.” But last week, Eucalyptus Systems announced version 3.0 of its product, setting its sights on providing “highly available” enterprise clouds capable of responding to hardware failure. The company already has some big names (former MySQL CEO Mårten Mickos) and real-world deployments at scale; it should shout far more loudly about them. Those, together with this week’s features, may be sufficient to tip the balance of market interest back in Eucalyptus’ direction.
  • VMware. As Ben Kepes notes, VMware’s sweeping announcements at VMworld see the company attempt to extend its closed-source reach, encompassing both private clouds inside the data center and hybrid solutions that reach beyond the enterprise. Derrick Harris suggested last month that “VMware wants to be the OS for the cloud,” and that shows no sign of changing soon. VMware is well-known and familiar, with a lock on the enterprise virtualization market that will be hard to shift, especially as it continues to innovate.

Current favorite OpenStack, meanwhile, continues to generate headlines of its own, and it has assembled an impressive set of partners (including Citrix and Verizon-acquired CloudSwitch). But it remains relatively untested in terms of deployment. To move from commentator’s favorite to enterprise solution of choice, OpenStack needs to round out its feature set and provide more examples of successful adoption. It may never choose to compete across VMware’s entire product portfolio, but OpenStack today remains narrowly focused. VMware is ambitious and efficient, useful characteristics in an expanding company but also illustrative of an attitude and mind-set that will appeal to many customers.

At the end of the day, it may not be the “best” cloud that wins but the cloud provider with the best story and the best fit with existing enterprise systems, vision and road map. Could that end up being VMware?

Question of the week

Are this week’s announcements enough to shift the apparent dominance of VMware and OpenStack?