Open-Sourcing the Cloud

I’ve expressed my skepticism of cloudy hype several times. I can summarize it as, “Use the if it serves a purpose better than anything else can for you, but don’t use it just because you can.”

(The primary legitimate purposes I can see include collaboration across time, space, and platforms, and off-site back-ups.)

Cory Doctorow is famously on record as warning to take the hype with several pounds of salt, pointing out that profit making companies want to woo us away from, say, purchasing an additional harddrive, for which we pay once, to purchasing storage in the cloud, for which we pay monthly or weekly. (Steve Lessem posted a counterpoint to Doctorow’s article.)

Last week, I heard someone involved in “” asked what it is; he said (I cannot guarantee that this is an exact quote, but it’s on target), “I don’t know. No one knows. It’s so early that no one knows.” (I cannot link directly to the podcast; it’s episode 362 at this link.)

Rackspace, which specializes in cloud storage and server services, has seeded a project to develop open source cloud technology and, in the process, help define what the cloud is by defining standards. From the SD (Software Development) Times:

Today, announced the launch of the OpenStack cloud project. The platform consists of a distributed object store based on Rackspace Cloud Files, and a forthcoming compute provisioning engine that is a hybrid of Rackspace and ’s Nebula technology. Nebula is an open-source cloud-computing project developed to provide an alternative to the construction of data centers, according to .

Application portability is one of the primary goals of the OpenStack project, said Jonathan Bryce, founder of Rackspace Cloud. Portability will help drive faster adoption of cloud computing in enterprises and in the government, he explained.

Almost 30 companies are participating in the project, including Intel, Dell, Citrix, and AMD.

On the Rackspace blog, Rackspace explains part of their motivation:

As hardware and software merge into services, the danger of locked down proprietary software stacks are emerging in the cloud space. The cloud world changes everything, and that is not good to many entrenched interests of the old guard. Core technologies from operating systems to hypervisors to databases are being used to tie cloud customers into an integrated view of the world.

Cloud(I suspect that “the old guard” to which they refer would include Microsoft’s Azure technology, which is a strategy to enable Microsoft’s operating systems and software to maintain their dominance in the business world.)

The OpenStack project will be built on NASA’s Nebula, an open source project developed by NASA to enable collaboration amongst its geographically dispersed locations.

The core technology developed for NASA’s Nebula cloud computing platform has been selected as a contributor for OpenStack, a newly-launched open source cloud computing initiative. It will pull together more than 25 companies to play a key role in driving cloud computing standards for interoperability and portability.

NASA sees mutual benefits in participating in the project:

“Nebula technology was selected for inclusion in the OpenStack project because of its massively scalable architecture and the high quality of its code” said Jim Curry, director of OpenStack.

The announcement coincides with O’Reilly Media’s Open Source Developers Conference, which is taking place in Portland, Ore., this week.

“Participating in OpenStack will allow NASA to tap into a well-established community of open source developers and enable us to benefit from crowd-sourced development efforts.” said Raymond O’Brien, Nebula’s program manager.

One of the consortium’s first goals is to work on standards:

“One of Rackspace’s intentions is to drive standards or, at least, interoperability in the cloud space, so I suspect this project will add some gas to that fire,” said RedMonk analyst Michael Cote, quoted in the SDTimes.

“Standards in the cloud space are always up and down: People who are leaders say it’s too early to worry about standards; new entrants and leader-hopefuls tend to emphasize it more, while several surveys of users show that security is a wider concern than interop and standards.

It should be interesting to see what impact this has on the cloudy marketplace.

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