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Red Hat's new OpenStack distribution raises concerns

Beth Pariseau

There is a growing group of OpenStack distribution providers and some industry watchers who believe fragmentation of the cloud standard could negatively impact cloud software providers and customers.

Red Hat Inc. launched its own distribution of OpenStack this week. Rackspace launched public cloud services

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based on the open source cloud software stack earlier this month, and other companies with OpenStack offerings on the market include Hewlett-Packard Co., Canonical's Ubuntu, Dell Inc., Piston Cloud Computing and Nebula.

OpenStack isn't just a package like other open source tools, said Lydia Leong, research vice president at Gartner Inc., based in Stamford, Conn. It's an entire framework, which means it will be more difficult to keep the different components in lockstep with one another. Also, any given OpenStack product could theoretically contain whatever combination of those components its creator feels like including, along with proprietary extensions.

Red Hat said any changes it makes to the OpenStack standard will be fed back into the community, but according to Leong, "If your distro doesn't have a lot of changes, then it doesn't have a whole lot of differentiation. But if it does have changes, then you have fragmentation."

Fragmentation makes supporting OpenStack difficult for users and for the management tools ecosystem, Leong said.

For other experts, the growing number of distributions is not a sign of fragmentation, but of growing maturity in the OpenStack market -- especially now that there is a Red Hat version.

"Generally speaking, all these multivendor foundations need one or more distros because there are a class of customers who won't take the product without support," said Mike Norman, analyst with The Virtualization Practice LLC, a virtualization and cloud consultancy based in Wrentham, Mass. "It's a sign of maturity that Red Hat is picking up OpenStack, producing a distro and committing to proper enterprise support and product lifetime."

"The important part is that everyone's sticking to the same [application programming interfaces]," said Chris Perry, cloud architect for DreamHost, a hosting provider based in Brea, Calif. "Even if people implement it in a slightly different way on the back end, the APIs are the same pretty much across the board."

Norman is also encouraged by the changes he's seen in the governance of OpenStack over the last year. Previously, OpenStack was too much under Rackspace's thumb for Norman's liking, but with the establishment of the OpenStack Foundation in April, it has become more of an independent organization, he said.

The Foundation will hold its first election next week as part of "the final critical steps toward giving [OpenStack] a final independent home," said Jonathan Bryce, president of the OpenStack Project Policy Board.

The release, dubbed Folsom, will be released in October.

Right now the open source community is on OpenStack's side, but it's important for the Foundation's participants to start seeing revenue soon, said James Staten, analyst for Forrester Research.

"If OpenStack fails by the fall of this year or the first quarter next year to really start driving revenue, there are a lot of companies that are participating in the OpenStack community in an oftentimes passive way who really need revenue from this, [who] could jump ship," he said. "They have a ticking clock [and] they've really got to move fast."

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for SearchCloudComputing.com and SearchServerVirtualization.com. Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.com or follow her on Twitter @PariseauTT.


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