In the world of OpenStack, does contribution level count more than market share?



Brandon Butler over at Network World says, “According to the website, which tracks the companies that make code contributions to the open source cloud project, HP has overtaken Red Hat as being responsible for more new code than any other company in the latest release of the software.”

So, why should you care? It could mean that OpenStack is gaining more interest from the larger contributors, namely HP. It also drives more confusion into the already rather confusing world of OpenStack.

The role of contributors in OpenStack (or other open source standards) means very different things, depending upon the standard and the objectives of the organization. As Brandon points out, in many instances, the code generation count provides “bragging rights,” in terms of a contributor’s ability to drive the growth of the standard.

HP was responsible for 19% of the new code in the Juno release of OpenStack, which is set to be finalized this fall. Red Hat had been the top contributor to OpenStack during the past couple of semi-annual releases of the code, but was second with 17% of the contributions this round. Other top contributors include pure-play OpenStack company Mirantis coming in third; co-founding company Rackspace is still a top contributor while IBM, SUSE and eNovance are also among the top 9.

The fact of the matter is that OpenStack is behind the cloud strategy of most IaaS providers that are not AWS, Microsoft, or Google. It’s been a pretty easy adoption path to declare an alliance with OpenStack, as a contributor, or otherwise. Thus, you’re able to quickly get to your own private or public cloud offering, or distribution, and therein exists the value.

OpenStack has continued to improve from release-to-release, but my past criticism around OpenStack still stands today. While OpenStack, which includes Rackspace, HP, IBM, and many startups, is clearly the darling of the cloud tech community, the number of installations within traditional IT shops has been lackluster. OpenStack can boast some big names, including Best Buy, Bloomberg, Comcast, Fidelity and PayPal, but the overall numbers are relatively weak when measured against the growth of their competitors, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google, and Microsoft.

Indeed, other analyst firms predict the OpenStack market will reach an estimated market size of $1.7 billion by 2016. I tend to agree with that. However, the total market was about $10 billion in 2013 for public and private IaaS clouds. That does not bode well for the dozens of companies that are hitching their wagons to OpenStack. They will only get a part of the $1.7 billion share in 2016, with the total public and private IaaS cloud market likely to be $15-$18 billion (very conservative) in 2016, if current growth continues. Of course, the other portions of the public and private IaaS cloud market are dominated by Microsoft, Google, and AWS, all who focus mostly on public cloud. OpenStack is still largely focused on private cloud.

No matter if Red Hat or HP is the largest contributor, OpenStack needs to do some quick moves to gather more momentum in the marketplace. The question for those investing in OpenStack: Is this the right path to pick up the speed OpenStack needs, and thus ensure the survival of both the community and the code tree?

Now is a good time to refer to contrarian views around OpenStack, including Randy Bias, who wrote a thoughtful response to my last OpenStack post.

Public and private cloud markets are pretty much orthogonal at this point. At some point in the future they may begin to compete, but that is almost certainly years out. Having talked to both Google and Amazon recently, I can assure you this is how they see this world. Other proof points include the 451 reports showing how infrastructure spend is changing inside the enterprise, short story: private cloud is eating the spending on traditional infrastructure and public cloud usage is steadily increasing. The assertion that OpenStack is somehow at odds with the Big Three cloud players doesn’t really make sense, especially considering the focus by enterprises on hybrid cloud solutions.

While I don’t necessarily agree with Randy, the core point he makes is rather profound. This is not about OpenStack being something that can beat the big three public cloud providers, but its ability to exist in an emerging ecosystem where OpenStack becomes a complimentary part of the infrastructure. If that’s the case, OpenStack could see a market share well north of $1.6 billion in 2016.

However, the path of OpenStack still seems to be more of a reaction to the growing market share of the big three. The larger players, such as IBM, HP, and others, don’t think in terms of interoperating, they think in terms of keeping their share of customers as AWS, Microsoft, and Google become more popular within the larger enterprises. The path of OpenStack is all about providing features and functions that reflect well on the features and functions of the larger public cloud IaaS providers, and not how to work and play well with complementary technology.

That said, OpenStack is not a product. In that regard, I agree with Randy, at least as a directional future concept: “OpenStack is not a standard nor a strategy. It’s an enabling technology akin to the Linux kernel.” Thus, as an enabling technology, the potential is for OpenStack to become even more systemic and far reaching than it is today. However, this means that all OpenStack players will need to get on the same page, and with a few bent on world domination of cloud computing, that might be very hard for them to do. I don’t see HP or IBM aiming to play second or third string, but they may be forced to play those roles by default.

Of course, the path here requires more agreement and close coordination than may be possible within an open source community. Each one of the players have their own agenda, and objectives, and moving to something that is a bit more logical for the direction of OpenStack as a whole may prove impossible. In my career, I’ve tried to drive many communities like this as a member, and it’s really like pushing rope. I suspect that OpenStack is no different.

Bottom line: OpenStack backers have little choice. OpenStack needs to find ways to reinvent itself for a market that seems to be shifting. I will say that OpenStack has improved a great deal this year as “enabling technology,” and I suspect this trend will continue. However, the core strategy matters more than who is the leading contributor.