Cloud adoption and open source were just a few years ago considered risky, cutting-edge approaches only pursued by the most confident (or poor) of technology departments. Times have changed. Even the federal government -- definitely not known for its propensity to be early adopters -- has embraced both. Despite the growth in adoption and acceptance, the intersection of cloud and open source still has a quite a bit of maturing to do, and from the looks of things, some of that growing up might be quite a battle.

Standardizing the Open Source Cloud

One of the first steps in any technology maturing is the emergence of standards. Standards provide a consistent set of guidelines and mechanisms for interacting with a technology. Despite the effort spent on developing standards, honestly, most of you probably don’t truly care about standards. They aren’t sexy or exciting. 

However, the things that standards make possible are likely important to you. Standards:

  • Improve interoperability
  • Lower adoption costs for technology
  • Increase development consistency and predictability
  • Reduces the focus on commodity features allowing effort to be redirected to competitive differentiators

These are important benefits, but what may be the most important benefit of standards for users of open source clouds is that standards will help avoid vendor and content lock-in. Today you do not have the luxury of that guarantee because the concepts of cloud standards and interoperability are still ill-defined. Many technology leaders have been shocked (and maybe a little embarrassed) that moving their CMS/ERP/SCM from one cloud vendor to another was essentially a completely new implementation effort, not the quick yank-and-replace they had envisioned.

The embryonic state of standards is not due to a lack of effort. Last month, after years of effort and over a dozen drafts, the National Institute of Technology published the final version of cloud computing definition (finally). Organizations such as the Open GroupDistributed Management Task ForceCloud Security Alliance, Storage Network Industry Association, and Open Cloud Consortium  have various cloud standards initiatives underway addressing issues ranging from interoperability to managing data. Nobody knows how cloud standards will look once they mature, but we can be sure that it will be a long and challenging journey.

A Defacto “Standard”

In parallel with all the formal standards activities, many in the industry are pursuing a parallel, but alternative path for making the use of open source a little less risky. Instead of writing how open source cloud technology should be standardized, they are building a

“ubiquitous open source cloud computing platform for public and private clouds”

The open source project, OpenStack, is being developed by a community of over 1,600 people and almost 130 companies from every corner of the globe. The goal of the project is to create a platform that delivers cloud services in a standard way so that companies can move between vendors.

Sounds wonderful right? What open source cloud vendor wouldn’t want to jump on the OpenStack bandwagon? That would be none other than our friendly open-source giant Red Hat.

The Upcoming Battle

This week SUSE, a provider of an enterprise Linux distribution that is an alternative to Red Hat, announced it was joining OpenStack. It’s likely that SUSE’s move isn’t just in the "kum ba yah" spirit of supporting their cloud peers. Enterprises are apprehensive about investing in new SUSE products since the Novell sale. Adopting OpenStack allows the company to assure potential clients there is little risk in using their cloud products, since they could always move to another OpenStack-based platform.

Red Hat, however, gets little benefit from being an undifferentiated member of the pack. Red Hat has elected to invest in its own open-source cloud offerings, CloudForms, its infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and OpenShift its platform-as-a-service (PaaS). The cloud is a strategic play for the company that could move it beyond US $ 1 billion in revenue annually. 

With so many vendors supporting, is OpenStack doomed to be a big loser in the open source cloud market? It’s unlikely. The market for cloud products is big and growing larger. Red Hat is almost certain to be able to carve out a piece given its brand recognition and loyal client base. What are your thoughts? Will Red Hat continue to march forward to its own tune or will it line up behind OpenStack?