The IT world’s love-hate relationship with OpenStack

OpenStack is a strange beast. The open-source cloud computing platform is a darling of IT vendors and some major end-users clamoring for an open cloud ecosystem, yet it generates a lot of criticism. Some folks question its governance model, while others question its technological maturity against more-established alternatives such as Amazon Web Services (s amzn) and VMware (s vmw). So, what’s with the schizophrenia around OpenStack as the cloud’s open source savior?

Why the hate

The project provides plenty of fuel to feed the critical fires. Initially, founding member Rackspace (s rax) dominated OpenStack and drew complaints that it had disproportionate influence over direction. The company has since released the project to an independent foundation, but governance drama remains. Currently in the process of electing a new board, the OpenStack Foundation has had to investigate allegations that an employee with one of its corporate members tried to intimidate a newly nominated candidate from what he perceived to be a company that’s competitive with OpenStack.

Then there’s the concern that there are too many cooks in the OpenStack kitchen, resulting in slow development and, potentially, leading to a Unix-style fracture. Geoff Arnold, a distributed systems expert who spent time examining OpenStack during a stint at Yahoo (s yhoo), recently told me in response to the AWS outage in June that he doesn’t think OpenStack will ever be as stable as AWS because it has to meet the requirements of so many (almost 200) contributing companies.

“I think Amazon has an advantage over the open source alternatives because [it] only [has] to answer to one boss — and that’s Jeff Bezos,” he said.

Citrix (s ctxs), an early OpenStack member, recently cut its losses and cut ties with the project, deciding instead to back its CloudStack platform as the future of open-source cloud computing. At the time, Citrix’s Sameer Dholakia told me, “Our very explicit public statement had been that we were going to try and build atop the OpenStack platform. … [But] we can’t afford to wait a year or two for the technical maturation process that needs to happen [in order to integrate CloudStack and OpenStack].”

It’s certainly conceivable that other large member companies such as HP (s hpq), IBM (s ibm) and Red Hat (s rht) — or even one of the high-profile startups such as Nebula and Piston Cloud (see disclosure) — could decide the project isn’t heading in the right direction and that a fork is necessary.

Why the love

However, that same cadre of mega-vendor backers means a betting man couldn’t be blamed for putting his money on OpenStack. Rackspace, HP, Dell (s dell), Internap (s intp), AT&T (s t), Deutsche Telekom and Dreamhost are already building, or have built, public clouds atop OpenStack. Other notable members include Intel (s intc), Cisco (s csco), NetApp (s ntap) and (by proxy, thanks to its recent Nicira acquisition) VMware. When this many influential companies put their names behind a project — or, in some cases, bank their cloud strategies on it — it stands to reason the project will have the resources and customer base to last for the long haul.

Rackspace alone might give prospective backers reason to be confident. The company’s cloud computing business, which OpenStack now underpins, has helped propel it to a $1.3 billion annual run rate (it earned $319 million in the second quarter, more than $72 million of that from its public cloud) and, as CEO Lanham Napier recently told me, will likely represent the majority of revenue in just a few years. On Tuesday, Rackspace rebranded itself to a degree by dropping the word “hosting” from its logo and adding a new “The Open Cloud Company” tagline.

Want large end-users? How about eBay (s ebay), which just detailed its private OpenStack cloud on Monday, along with Intel, Yahoo, NASA and a slew of major research centers. There certainly are other large OpenStack users that haven’t made it public yet.

Perhaps it’s just par for the course that any project with so much hype, representing such a lucrative opportunity, and comprised of big egos all around is going to be a hotbed of in-fighting and allegations. But if the companies involved can hold OpenStack together enough to keep everyone headed in the same direction, it’s hard to see how it won’t be a major factor in the cloud space for a long time to come.

Disclosure: Piston is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user Stocksnapper;