Today in Cloud

A $3 or $4 million investment may not sound like much in a market that has seen a flurry of far larger investments and acquisitions in recent months. But Minneapolis-based enStratus has been on a roll recently, hiring very visible proponents of cloud computing such as James Urquhart and John Willis. The $3.5 million (with another $1 million to come, according to Ben Kepes) is simply the latest piece of the story. The cloud management niche within which enStratus operates is an important one, but it remains to be seen whether it’s a market segment in which you can survive, thrive and grow as an independent. GigaOM Pro contributors Kepes and Krishnan Subramanian are amongst those suggesting that enStratus may be acquired sooner rather than later. Will it be Citrix, or VMware, or is a surprise suitor lurking in the wings?

Today in Cloud

The Open Cloud Initiative (OCI) launched yesterday during O’Reilly’s OSCON event in Portland, Oregon. Intended “to provide a legal framework within which the greater cloud computing community of users and providers can reach consensus on a set of requirements for Open Cloud,” the OCI actually began back in March 2009. This week’s announcement sees the previously ad hoc group take on legal status as a public benefit corporation, registered in California. The organization supports the Open Cloud Principles, and hopes to encourage industry adoption of open formats for data and open interfaces for access to cloud functionality. CloudAve’s Krishnan Subramanian — normally quick to welcome open approaches — appears unsure about OCI, and I share some of his misgivings. Openness and (especially) interoperability will certainly become increasingly important as the cloud matures and becomes a bigger part of the enterprise IT toolkit, but this must surely be tempered by commercial reality — and recognition that the R&D budgets of commercial companies push so much of this area forward. Open has a place, but it is not always helpful to push open in a manner that is unforgiving of real world practicalities. Does OCI, perhaps, do that?

Citrix and VMware strengthen their cloud credentials

Citrix Systems announced the acquisition of private-cloud startup Cloud.com on Tuesday, the same day VMware rolled out a significant update to vSphere. Both companies are attempting to cement positions as private-cloud providers, with Citrix pursuing an open strategy and VMware seeking proprietary solutions. This week’s announcements strengthen their separate offerings and further entrench very different philosophical approaches.

Alongside a memorable domain name, the Cloud.com acquisition gives Citrix access to CloudStack, the infrastructure offering that the company lacked. This open-source product makes it straightforward for companies to run private clouds loosely equivalent to Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) inside their own data centers. The hypervisor is key to enabling virtualization of computing infrastructure, and CloudStack works with many of the leading hypervisors, including KVM, VMware’s vSphere and the one to which Citrix has given its support: Xen. This acquisition strengthens the company’s ability to compete in the lucrative market for private clouds, an area that Citrix was already beginning to explore through Project Olympus.

VMware has been strengthening its private cloud credentials for some time, moving beyond “simple” desktop virtualization to dominate the increasingly virtualized enterprise data center through server virtualization, security and management products, the vFabric platform and more. With Tuesday’s announcements, the company sought to maintain its lead over cheaper rivals like Microsoft and Citrix, something that InformationWeek‘s Art Wittmann reckoned vSphere 5 achieves, at least “in the short run.” Along with vSphere, the company refreshed a group of existing tools as the cloud infrastructure suite to deliver security, disaster recovery and management capabilities. The New York Times’ Steve Lohr characterized the announcements as VMware’s “bid to become the Microsoft of cloud computing,” meaning dominant at key points in the technology stack. GigaOM’s Derrick Harris welcomed the “higher-performance, more automated and generally cloudier VMware experience” promised by this release, while cautioning that although it represented steady progress, “this was not the groundbreaking event that VMware promised it would be.”

As I noted last week, VMware’s undisputed dominance of the virtualization space may be waning, and the company really needs to keep delivering innovation. To that end, vSphere gives existing customers more performance in a familiar package, and the related cloud tools deliver a rounded set of capabilities likely to make existing VMware virtualization customers seriously consider the company as their private cloud choice.

In addition to the technological differences in the solutions offered by VMware and Citrix, there’s also a philosophical difference that may become increasingly important. VMware develops, sells and maintains a stack of products that are essentially proprietary in nature. The products are tightly integrated and well supported, but they are also tightly controlled. History suggests that open often beats proprietary in the end, as community effort rallies to out-innovate any one company.

At least in the cloud, Citrix is pursuing a far more open approach, embracing, contributing to and selling commercial services around open-source projects from the Xen hypervisor to the OpenStack cloud infrastructure. By leveraging community engagement, Citrix gains access to a pool of expertise far larger than it can afford to employ. The Cloud.com acquisition fits this mould, and Ben Kepes suggests it should accelerate existing efforts inside Citrix to deliver a managed cloud infrastructure solution. As Krishnan Subramanian notes, both Citrix and Cloud.com are involved with OpenStack, although neither currently delivers solutions built on OpenStack code.

With Project Olympus, Citrix was attempting to deliver a commercial product powered by OpenStack, something Derrick Harris described at the time as intended “to combat bitter virtualization rival VMware.” But with this week’s acquisition, it may make more sense for Citrix to push CloudStack’s proven technology to their customers now, rather than waiting for OpenStack and Olympus to deliver an alternative later.

VMware’s announcements see the company continuing with a successful strategy, steadily enhancing an already rich set of products. The Citrix news also fits that company’s existing trajectory well, but it remains to be seen what the implications for OpenStack might be. Regardless, it will not be long before Citrix and VMware are competing for enterprise sales within the cloud. Neither solution is indisputably “better” than the other, and we will increasingly see purchasing decisions swayed by buyers’ belief in the corporate philosophy of their supplier.

Question of the week

Will Citrix continue to develop Project Olympus, or will the company push CloudStack in the short term?

Today in Cloud

VMware yesterday launched Cloud Foundry, an open source Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering aimed directly at competitors such as Salesforce‘s Force.com and Microsoft‘s Windows Azure. A blog post by VMware CTO Steve Herrod lays out the core proposition, and emphasises both simplification (of the processes around creation, deployment, and running of cloud-based applications) and choice (of developer frameworks such as Java and Rails, and of cloud infrastructure). GigaOM’s Stacey Higginbotham reckons that Cloud Foundry “is a pretty big deal,” and believes that this new development threatens community efforts such as OpenStack as much as established middleware providers like IBM. Over at CloudAve, Krishnan Subramanian claims that “VMware has completely disrupted the PaaS space with this announcement,” stressing the importance of Cloud Foundry’s ability to run on a range of public clouds, in a “downloadable Micro Cloud” and even on a developer’s laptop. With Cloud Foundry, VMware leverages the strengths of acquisitions such as SpringSource, RabbitMQ, GemStone and Mozy, and establishes itself as a serious contender in the cloud. For too long, PaaS has been the rather unloved runt of the Cloud stack (Infrastructure, Platform, Software/Applications), always seen as full of potential but rarely delivering anything compelling. Maybe Cloud Foundry changes that.

Today in Cloud

Krishnan Subramanian over at CloudAve wrote a post — based on conversations with Sun Microsystems — that Sun might abandon its planned public cloud offering and focus its efforts around private cloud, instead. I agree that this might be a bad idea, if only for the reason that Sun likely can compete far better in the public space than it can in the private space alone. Yes, Sun has the parts to build and manage private clouds, but, so do HP and IBM — and they aren’t accepting acquisition offers. If you’re Sun, why not distinguish yourself instead of engaging in more of the same?