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Fri, May. 11th, 2012, 04:57 pm
OpenStack: Timely As Ever

This post was originally written for Infochimps, as a response to a GigaOm editorial titled "Is It Too Late For OpenStack?"

Prognostication seems to be all the rage again this week. Allow me to polish the crystal ball, and take a look into our cloudy future.

The competition isn't between OpenStack vs. Eucalyptus or CloudStack. It's between Amazon's closed AWS API ecosystem and OpenStack's market-driven API process. On the one side is the grandfather of IaaS and several notable open-source descendants, all fulfilling the API contract that Amazon owns wholesale. On the other side are a coalition of large hardware manufacturers, hosting providers, and space agencies, working to define an API (and a core reference implementation) that provides a broader market for innovation among cloud providers. The ecosystem shift of CloudStack, from OpenStack to AWS, is certainly notable as a signal of the AWS API market's viability. Like Kia's choice not to enter the luxury car market, however, it says almost nothing about the market it opted out of.

Amazon isn't going to abandon AWS, but its development will be slower than the collective development on OpenStack. Because they're built as monolithic blocks with different internal interfaces, its open-source imitators will find it harder to share code, and Amazon will probably never open source more than a small percentage of their core code. The AWS API contract will remain largely immutable to outsiders, although Amazon is open to outside input, as the Eucalyptus agreement shows. The hosting ecosystem there will be strongly commodified, which is great for SMB projects, and less exciting for large enterprises and institutions.

OpenStack isn't going away, either. CloudStack's dramatically-timed exit from the standards process is a sign of that process heating up, not cooling down. There are still many big players with their irons in the fire, because they see the longer-term benefits of a market that allows differentiation. OpenStack's focus on API standards has given those players a common set of interfaces, each of which can be fulfilled by separate components; this lets companies focus their development on those parts they do best (be it computers, file stores, or networks), knowing their work will be compatible with others. Large enterprises and institutions are well placed to use the performance advantages this provides, and large hardware manufacturers and service providers will prefer the bigger profit margins they can achieve by selling specifically those advantages. The secondary tool ecosystem here will be a bit smaller, but where AWS-compatible API shims aren't available, and what it lacks in broad size it will make up in more enterprise-level features.

And in the end, tools like Fog (and Ironfan, built on Fog and Chef) will make the differences between the two markets one of taste, and reduce the lock-in to specific providers yet further. Users will be able to freely move between the AWS and OpenStack markets as their needs change, maybe even on a minute-to-minute basis.

So who wins? In a super-market full of good options, ultimately, everyone does.