Today in Cloud

Hewlett Packard today announced a closed beta of HP Cloud Services; the company’s attempt to compete at scale with Amazon’s market dominating Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offering. HP is claiming “integration of OpenStack,” but GigaOM’s Derrick Harris is amongst those questioning the extent to which HP’s new baby is relying upon the open source code. One of OpenStack’s promises was interoperability; the ability to move from a Rackspace cloud to a Dell cloud to an HP cloud, all powered by the same codebase. If — as appears the case here — HP has tweaked and fiddled, and built dependencies to their own hardware and software, that interoperability will be very limited. Derrick concludes, “when beta users start talking and when HP opens the doors on its cloud services to the public, then we’ll see how HP really stacks up as a cloud computing provider.” Indeed.

Competition for the private cloud heats up

Despite OpenStack’s continued growth, a combination of product updates and acquisitions from Citrix, Eucalyptus, Red Hat and VMware over the past week demonstrate that the race to become the dominant private cloud provider, as well as win over the enterprise, is far from over. Is one of these solutions “better” than the others? Not unequivocally, since each has characteristics that appeal to specific customers. OpenStack, for example, continues to attract attention with a good story about providing cloud infrastructure for all, including NASA and other strong partners; but VMware can leverage its significant installed base in the virtualization space to sell hard. Meanwhile, none of the others are standing still.

First, a quick recap on this week’s news:

  • Citrix. Citrix used VMworld this week to announce that the next version of the CloudStack product will be completely open source, rather than continuing to follow the less permissive open-core model of earlier releases (and competitor Eucalyptus). Citrix has an existing route into data centers with its networking and virtualization business, a strong product with real-world deployment and now an open-source story. Some doubts remain around the future relationship between CloudStack and OpenStack, despite explicit pledges of support. It’s also unclear how CloudStack fits with an earlier Citrix project: Project Olympus. At the end of the day making source code freely available for reuse is a worthy step, but it’s not one that will be decisive in driving the selection of a private cloud solution.
  • Red Hat. Red Hat is also pursuing an open-source line, leading what The Register describes as an “effort to succeed where OpenStack has struggled in building an open-source cloud founded on broad community input.” It’s difficult to interpret OpenStack’s growing mind share as evidence of “struggle,” but Red Hat’s multihypervisor, multicloud approach to Aeolus does represent a different take: Aeolus intends to bridge different environments in a permissive fashion. Red Hat has an interesting story to tell about freedom, flexibility and choice. But enterprises are far more likely to be looking for support, evidence of adoption elsewhere and a clear road map into the future. Interesting as it is technically and philosophically, Aeolus may not be the solution they need.
  • Eucalyptus. Back in May, as Ubuntu promoted OpenStack’s private cloud over previous favorite Eucalyptus, I wrote, “it is becoming increasingly unclear whether [Eucalyptus] has a compelling future.” But last week, Eucalyptus Systems announced version 3.0 of its product, setting its sights on providing “highly available” enterprise clouds capable of responding to hardware failure. The company already has some big names (former MySQL CEO Mårten Mickos) and real-world deployments at scale; it should shout far more loudly about them. Those, together with this week’s features, may be sufficient to tip the balance of market interest back in Eucalyptus’ direction.
  • VMware. As Ben Kepes notes, VMware’s sweeping announcements at VMworld see the company attempt to extend its closed-source reach, encompassing both private clouds inside the data center and hybrid solutions that reach beyond the enterprise. Derrick Harris suggested last month that “VMware wants to be the OS for the cloud,” and that shows no sign of changing soon. VMware is well-known and familiar, with a lock on the enterprise virtualization market that will be hard to shift, especially as it continues to innovate.

Current favorite OpenStack, meanwhile, continues to generate headlines of its own, and it has assembled an impressive set of partners (including Citrix and Verizon-acquired CloudSwitch). But it remains relatively untested in terms of deployment. To move from commentator’s favorite to enterprise solution of choice, OpenStack needs to round out its feature set and provide more examples of successful adoption. It may never choose to compete across VMware’s entire product portfolio, but OpenStack today remains narrowly focused. VMware is ambitious and efficient, useful characteristics in an expanding company but also illustrative of an attitude and mind-set that will appeal to many customers.

At the end of the day, it may not be the “best” cloud that wins but the cloud provider with the best story and the best fit with existing enterprise systems, vision and road map. Could that end up being VMware?

Question of the week

Are this week’s announcements enough to shift the apparent dominance of VMware and OpenStack?

Today in Cloud

Earlier this month, Derrick Harris wrote about the current fashion for taking open source software and shipping it alongside some bespoke hardware in the form of an appliance; buy it, plug it into the network, and just let it get on with the job. As Derrick argued, there are plenty of reasons why this might make sense as an approach to sustainable growth. There are also plenty of reasons why it doesn’t, and the investment, margins and skills are very different to those associated with shipping code or delivering professional services. Nevertheless, the trend continues, with Nutanix today announcing a virtualized server with on-board solid state and hard drive storage. Appliances are an interesting approach, perhaps most applicable in circumstances where a customer really does intend to simply buy one and sit it in the corner to get on with its job. Things can become more complex when appliances need to be tightly integrated with other infrastructure, but then that’s often also true when integrating traditional hardware from different vendors. Where will the current enthusiasm for appliances take us next?

Today in Cloud

Chris Kemp, NASA’s former CTO and one of the founding fathers of OpenStack, gathered a lot of headlines yesterday with the launch of his new venture. Not to be confused with Nimbula or the NASA cloud that shares its name, Nebula will offer a turnkey hardware appliance running the OpenStack code; just plug it in and go. The appliance will manage commodity servers in a private cloud, with the servers initially either coming from Dell, or being built following the designs open sourced by Facebook’s Open Compute effort. Derrick Harris, Dean Takahashi and Alex Howard are amongst those offering more analysis. And elsewhere in OpenStack-land, news that Hewlett Packard has signed up to the project. Nebula is potentially big news, but HP’s announcement deserved far more attention than it got.

Despite growth in open source, commercial solutions still dominate

Open-source cloud computing project OpenStack turned one this week, and cloud backup provider Backblaze freely shared detailed specifications for a storage device capable of holding 135 terabytes of data. Open-source options for everything from servers and data centers to clouds and application platforms are growing more robust. And yet both new and established commercial providers continue to sell products and services. Despite the ready availability of free solutions, the majority of customers continue to prefer products backed by the expertise and support of commercial organizations.

Launched a year ago, OpenStack has already reached a state of maturity sufficient for GigaOM’s Derrick Harris to suggest that it “looks not only like an open-source alternative to Amazon Web Services and VMware vCloud in the public Infrastructure as a Service space, but also a democratizing force in the private-cloud software space.” Eighty-nine companies are now involved, Rackspace is transitioning its existing cloud-computing offering to the OpenStack Compute code, and competitors such as Dell and Internap are preparing their own OpenStack powered services for launch.

Backblaze’s work is different. It is less about a community effort and more about the work of a single company. Nevertheless, it is a good example of an open-source solution that challenges the economics behind existing proprietary approaches. Backblaze’s figures suggest that Amazon could charge almost $2.5 million to store a petabyte for three years and that Dell hardware would cost just over $500,000 to buy and run. But the Backblaze design would cost less than $100,000 over the same period. The company’s founder and VP of engineering, Tim Nufire, is, however, quick to stress that “the economies of scale only kick in if you really do need to store a full petabyte or more.” By taking an approach that lowers the cost of storage, Backblaze has enabled third parties such as Vanderbilt University to consider projects that previously might never have begun.

OpenStack and Backblaze are just two parts of the continuing wave of open-source innovation; other examples include projects such as Eucalyptus, Nimbula, Cloud Foundry, Hadoop and others. Although the fruits of these projects are freely available for anyone to implement, the reality remains different. Especially in mission-critical business areas, many companies remain uncomfortable about downloading plans or compiling code for themselves. Instead, they turn to third parties to help deploy these freely available tools, and they take out support contracts to ensure that someone is always available should things go wrong. Red Hat demonstrated this model almost 20 years ago, selling support around the freely available Linux operating system. Eucalyptus continues in almost exactly the same manner today, and in the OpenStack community we are already seeing the emergence of commercial support from Rackspace Cloud Builders and others. And while some of these third parties (Eucalyptus Systems, for example) are newcomers established specifically for this purpose, many are the existing hardware vendors and systems integrators from whom enterprise IT departments have bought for decades.

But rather than stand idly by and allow open-source alternatives to cannibalize their revenues, established providers such as Dell, IBM and Citrix are finding ways to engage with and develop on top of open-source activity. For example, Citrix, with OpenStack and Project Olympus, is building on top of open-source code in order to create new commercial offerings that benefit directly from the community’s work. Last week’s acquisition of Cloud.com, however, may have altered the detail of this approach, as a recent weekly update explored.

The cost savings that are available to end users willing to sacrifice support and accountability are equally relevant to providers of commercial software and services today. By building their next generation of products on top of open-source foundations, these companies lower their own costs, gain access to innovation from a community of developers for whom they do not need to pay and — potentially — innovate faster and more affordably. Commercial success and open source do not need to be opposites, and the partnership between the two will increasingly be seen as mutually beneficial.

Question of the week

In which areas will companies be willing to adopt open-source solutions on their own?

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

Cloudera today used the Hadoop Summit in Santa Clara to announce the latest version of their commercial Cloudera Enterprise solution. Two key features stand out, and they’re clearly intended to make it easier to deploy and work at scale with Hadoop. A new Service and Configuration Manager offers a unified dashboard, and a means to automate the installation, launch, and running of Hadoop components across multiple machines. A related Activity Monitor makes it far easier to watch the progress of large and complex jobs. These are incremental enhancements, but they are important in making Hadoop easier to run in a production environment, and a clear sign of growing maturity in the product. A cut-down version of the new Service and Configuration Manager is also being added to the freely available Cloudera Distribution of Apache Hadoop (CDH), bringing several of the new features to a broader community than Cloudera Enterprise’s paying customers. Elsewhere, as Derrick Harris reported, Yahoo! has unveiled Hortonworks, a direct competitor to Cloudera and another choice for customers who want (or need) more than the unsupported download of some Apache-licensed code.

Today in Cloud

When Rackspace announced their professional services offering around OpenStackCloud BuildersI was concerned about what the departure might mean for the company in the longer term. Today’s announcement of Project Olympus from Citrix promises some similarities, as do RightScale‘s hints about their next steps. Although Citrix may deserve similar reservations to those I directed at Rackspace, neither Citrix nor RightScale really run the sorts of businesses with which their latest proposed offerings could compete. There is clear value in offering a range of professional services around an open source solution like OpenStack, and these companies are well placed to be amongst the first to offer them. I am sure there will be many more to follow.

What Ubuntu’s Move to OpenStack Means for Eucalyptus

This week, the Ubuntu project announced that “future versions of Ubuntu Cloud will use OpenStack as a foundation technology,” apparently replacing Eucalyptus as the enabling infrastructure behind Ubuntu’s cloud capabilities. Eucalyptus does not (yet) appear to have been dropped completely, and existing deployments will definitely be supported for the next few years. But this is the latest in a series of setbacks for the platform, and it is becoming increasingly unclear whether it has a compelling future.

Today in Cloud

Open source cruncher of Big Data, Hadoop, certainly attracted a lot of attention yesterday, and GigaOM’s Derrick Harris rounds up a slew of software, hardware and appliance news. For some time now, Cloudera has practically been synonymous with Hadoop. Yesterday’s announcements, plus Yahoo’s recent suggestion that the company might give its Hadoop engineering team the freedom to compete, make the picture richer and more complex. Things just got better for companies with problems of the type that Hadoop solves so well, but all eyes are now on Cloudera to see how the startup can continue to focus attention in an increasingly crowded space.