Mirantis: the world needs another OpenStack distribution and here it is

So how many OpenStack distributions does the world really need? Apparently one more, at least according to Mirantis. The OpenStack systems integration shop is adding its own distribution to a roster that already includes OpenStack versions from Canonical, SUSE, Red Hat(S rhat), Rackspace(S rax) and a raft of more private-cloud-oriented distros as well.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Mirantis’ claim to fame is that it has built OpenStack-based clouds for many customers including PayPal(s ebay), The Gap, and Cisco(s csco).

Mirantis CEO Adrian Ionel

Mirantis CEO Adrian Lionel said his company’s’ experience working with all the OpenStack components gave it the know-how needed to build its own distribution. “We’ve taken all that experience from over 70 deployments and we’ve actually been shipping it for four months,” he said, adding that Mirantis has signed new customers including Workday, Ericsson, and Sony.

Ionel said Mirantis OpenStack is totally compatible with all the relevant OpenStack APIs and so will offer customers a “zero lock-in” cloud infrastructure. He contends that other distros offered by operating system vendors (Red Hat, Canonical, SUSE) are pretty much bound to those companies’ respective  OSes.

Mirantis OpenStack, on the other hand, he said, “supports multiple hypervisors, multiple operating systems and a multiple plug-in partner framework and everything we do is contributed upstream.”

No lock-in? Promises, promises

Concern over vendor lock-in, long an issue for companies buying their own data center hardware and software, has carried over into the realm of cloud computing. And nagging doubts about interoperability between even OpenStack clouds will be a topic of discussion at the upcoming OpenStack Summit.

While Mirantis may lack the name recognition of a Red Hat, those cloud construction projects does give it credibility in building OpenStack clouds and hardening the open-source cloud infrastructure, said Michael Cote, analyst with 451 Research.

“They’ve been the primary- and sub-contractors for many OpenStack projects. The sub-contracting is what’s most interesting: Mirantis has been behind the scenes of cloud build-outs that go out under other brand’s names,” Cote said.

Mirantis’ pitch includes Fuel, what Ionel describes as a “completely open source” control plane for OpenStack and Project Savanna, which promises one-click Hadoop-on-Demand implementations atop OpenStack. and which is now backed by Red Hat, Hortonworks, IBM(s ibm), and Rackspace(s rax).

Raising a ruckus about OpenStack

Mirantis, with 480 employees, including 120 who work full time on this distribution, is a bit of a rabble rouser. About a week ago a blog post by co-founder Alex Friedland said the addition of higher-level services to OpenStack will kill off third-party PaaSes. That caused a firestorm on Twitter and sparked a raft of counter  posts.  Earlier this year, another controversy erupted when a Mirantis executive said Paypal was dumping VMware for OpenStack. The truth proved to be more nuanced than that.

So, does the world really need a half-dozen (or more) OpenStack distributions?  Probably not. But Cote pointed out we’re still early in the cloud computing era.

“Remember Linux? There were all sorts of distros before the market consolidated. Virtualization was the same. The historical pattern of infrastructure platforms – operating systems, virtualization, cloud platforms, etc. – is a whole bunch at first, and then pretty fast winnowing down when someone has one that works well in the mainstream.”

And that winnowing will begin. Whether all these distributions or sort-of distros from companies including Piston (see disclosure), Cloudscaling, Nebula, perhaps Hewlett Packard(s hpq) and others, survive and prosper is questionable.

Especially as there are several big cloud efforts outside the OpenStack universe. when it comes to enterprise clouds, Microsoft and VMware are top of mind among 451 Research customers, Cote said.

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.