CloudStack and OSS generally

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Content Copyright © 2014 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: The Norfolk Punt

The Open Source movement is really all about Freedom to innovate. It is all about developer collaboration and the open, transparent, sharing of information about open source software (OSS). In the old, commercial, world, software defects could be hidden for sound commercial reasons; in the OSS world, people can see them in the software, talk about them and fix them. And, in a commercial world where industrial espionage is often state-sponsored (and not just by whatever you consider to be the ‘evil empire’), the option to actually inspect the source code for the applications you depend on can be very comforting (although don’t underestimate the skills you’ll need to actually take advantage of this—the code tells you exactly what your software does, but reading C++, say, isn’t always trivial, and I was interested to hear that Apache is now applying static analysis tools to its candidate code).

I was talking about this sort of thing at the CloudStack Collaboration Conference in Budapest with Giles Sirett of ShapeBlue—which claims to be the largest independent global integrator of CloudStack technologies, specialising in delivering both private and public IaaS cloud installations. Giles was at pains to point out that he can’t actually talk on behalf of the Foundation as Apache has good governance policies (The Apache Way) around making sure that its software really is a collaborative, community effort. Just another sign that OSS really is now grown-up enough for enterprise use—in fact, this has been true for a long time and, as I’ve mentioned before, much of the world’s e-Commerce goes through the Apache OSS web server, for example.

Giles and I were talking around the 3 main competing Open Source cloud stacks, all of which have commercial associations (this is generally true of ISS projects—someone has to pay everyone’s mortgages). These are Apache CloudStack, OpenStack and Eucalyptus and, not surprisingly, Giles (who is a PMC—Project Management Committee—member, committer in the Apache CloudStack project, and Chairman of the European CloudStack user group) thinks that CloudStack has the edge, in the openness stakes anyway; although it was originally a commercial product, then owned by Citrix and given away to Apache. CloudStack is probably the easiest to set up, its API is more or less equivalent to that of Amazon and it has a long history of successful commercial implementations, particularly with telecomms service providers such as BT.

Which isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with OpenStack as a technology, although it has a reputation of being harder to set up, and it seems to be adopted by vendors (such as Cisco, IBM, Dell and many more) who want to build a services business around it (and there’s always the fear that the independent OpenStack Foundation might be influenced in its decisions by a sufficiently powerful vendor). IBM, for instance,  tells a strong story around its use of OpenStack and it is definitely preferable to its past endorsement of proprietary IBM standards.

Eucalyptus is Amazon AWS compatible and said to be particularly easy to get up and going with, but it has just been acquired by HP and it’s not entirely clear what the implications of this will be—HP has excellent technologies (many of which are built on OpenStack however) and some very good people but a not entirely happy history of acquisitions. Still, AWS is an important cloud player and Eucalyptus gives HP the chance to exploit the Enterprise penchant for private clouds in the AWS space (Amazon itself isn’t too keen on private cloud). 

Leaving Giles, the CloudStack Collaboration Conference seemed to be just what you’d expect—technically-focussed, open and collaborative. One insight I liked was that the issue cloud implementers often face is not just keeping tenants entirely separate in a multi-tenanted environment, but also the issue around convincing the auditors that you can (possibly one reason for building clouds on mainframe technology, which had multi-tenanting designed in from the start).

Finally, this CloudStack conference strongly reminded me that, although Open Source Software has come of age for serious business, it needs to be handled with maturity by businesses—it isn’t license-free software and it must be managed just like every other software asset in the business. This is the theme of the free BCS CMSG presentation on Dec 9th. This will be well worth attending, as the presenter, Alan Morbey (Configuration Manager, Met Office), will be talking about his practical experience with managing OSS. It is just a real pity that the BCS CMSG sent its flier out in proprietary DOCX format instead of the OASIS Open Standard ODF format, which even the UK government now endorses.