Is Red Hat now the boss of OpenStack? Should it be?

Rackspace(s rax) turned over the reins of OpenStack to a foundation just over three years ago, in part to show that the open-source cloud framework was not dominated by one vendor. And presto, other vendors signed on in droves. There are, at last count: 8 top-tier Platinum members; 19 Golds; 60 Corporate Sponsors and — wait, there’s more –more than 200 “supporting organizations.”  GoDaddy just joined the effort last week. Seems like the only major IT vendors not on that list somewhere are Amazon(s amzn) and Microsoft(s msft).

And yet, there is uneasiness among the rank-and-file that Red Hat(s rhat) is angling to be the new boss in town. By some counts, Red Hat contributed the most code to the current Havana release of OpenStack and according to attendees of the OpenStack Summit in Hong Kong last fall, Red Hat signage and presence dominated the floor.

Scratch the surface and there’s concern that Red Hat will replicate its success in enterprise Linux in the OpenStack arena — relegating other players to also-ran status at least among customers willing to pay for support.

Structure 2011: Joshua McKenty - Co-Founder and CTO, Piston Cloud Computing, Inc.

Structure 2011: Joshua McKenty – Co-Founder and CTO, Piston Cloud Computing, Inc.

In an interview a few weeks back, Piston Cloud (see disclosure) CTO Joshua McKenty acknowledged the angst. “There was some unease about Red Hat especially in Hong Kong and in some of the tech committee meetings and board meetings but they’re starting to get pushed back a little bit and some overstepping is being curtailed,” he said. “This is a healthy but necessary next step for the community.”

End running Red Hat in PaaS

That conversation came before news that Cloud Foundry, the open-source Platform as a Service (PaaS) was following OpenStack into the multi-vendor foundation realm. That move, backed by Cloud Foundry power Pivotal, along several with Piston Cloud and others, aimed  to solidify community support around a PaaS layer and obviate the need for such things as say Red Hat OpenShift PaaS and the Solum PaaS idea launched by Rackspace last fall. (McKenty told me that with the formation of the foundation “Solum goes away.” I haven’t heard Rackspace say that, however.)

In Gigaom’s Structure Show podcast last week (link below), Eucalyptus CEO Marten Mickos said the Cloud Foundry Foundation looks like an end-run around Red Hat OpenShift. “It’ s not surprising of course that the Cloud Foundry consortium is trying to take over the community from OpenShift — they’re trying to prevent Red Hat from becoming the leader,” he said.(He also said he believes Red Hat will become the standard OpenSource cloud going forward.)

Granted, Eucalyptus is an open-source cloud alternative to OpenStack, but that doesn’t make his observation any less valid. Even most OpenStack players concede that there will be a consolidation of the various OpenStack offerings — not everyone is going to make it. If the smaller players can prevent Red Hat from big-footing the process, there’s a bigger chance that some of them will live to fight another day.

Anyway, this is a drama to keep an eye on. InformationWeek’s Charles Babcock has more on it here.

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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.


Note: This story was updated at 5:48 p.m. PDT March 11 to reflect that Piston Cloud is not a member of the Cloud Foundry Foundation.