OpenStack alternatives campaign for enterprise votes

OpenStack is this year's flashy candidate, but some enterprises will cast their ballots for open source cloud computing alternatives.

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U.S. citizens go to the polls today to cast their final votes for president, but for open cloud platforms, the battle for market adoption is still in the primaries.

OpenStack has dominated so far, generating significant buzz, but some pundits wonder if there's a sleeper candidate in the mix, waiting to stake its claim. These OpenStack alternatives include Eucalyptus, CloudStack and OpenNebula. "All of this could be fleeting, because this market is so new and so small to begin with," said James Staten, analyst with Forrester Research Inc.

Eucalyptus declared Amazon's running mate

Proponents say that Eucalyptus, the elder statesman of this campaign, most closely matches Amazon Web Services' (AWS) APIs, which is key to portability between private clouds and AWS. "Being as heavily entrenched in AWS as we are, Eucalyptus is really the only clear option for us," said Daniel Bozeman, software engineer for Mosaik Solutions LLC, a Memphis, Tenn.-based firm that creates custom maps, artwork and infographics for such networking customers as AT&T, Verizon Communications Inc. and OnStar LLC.

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Mosaik uses Eucalyptus to create Amazon-compatible machine instances on-site during the testing and development of its geospatial network intelligence software, then migrates them to AWS for production. Before choosing Eucalypus, Bozeman also evaluated Cloud.com (now CloudStack), which he said was too costly, and OpenStack, which he said was too immature.

Eucalyptus had major momentum two years ago, before OpenStack even entered the race, but its licensing model has held it back, said Mike Norman, open source analyst for The Virtualization Practice LLC. Contributors to Eucalyptus' code must assign intellectual property rights to Eucalyptus Systems Inc.; then they must be issued a license, which discourages third-party monetization, Norman said. "OpenStack has built momentum through the community of adopters and contributors, which is facilitated by the permissive Apache license," he said in an email. "Eucalyptus … can't therefore build the same community." Eucalyptus Systems' CEO Marten Mickos noted that his organization's newer licensing model ensures its code stays open in third-party distributions. "The OpenStack model is different," he said in an email. "It allows anyone to make closed-source variations of the project."

CloudStack competes for swing votes

CloudStack split from OpenStack in April and since then has based its campaign on grassroots support from within the Apache Software Foundation. Version 4.0.0, its first incubator release under Apache, is out this week.

CloudStack, like Eucalyptus, collected a number of production cloud deployments in its camp during the Cloud.com days. At Schuberg Philis B.V., a hosting company based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, an engineer was working on setting up OpenStack for a few weeks. Other colleagues got tired of waiting and stood up a cloud with CloudStack in less than a week, said Hugo Trippaers, mission-critical engineer for the hoster. "CloudStack is basically a single product that does everything," he said. "It manages infrastructure, manages storage. If you look at OpenStack, it's a lot of different projects that you need to combine."

But an ongoing transition from Citrix Systems Inc. to Apache licensing is a hurdle CloudStack must overcome before it can make any further progress in the race. It may be a tricky transition to negotiate with contributor partners. "In the meantime, it's not surprising that OpenStack is taking the opportunity to be more vocal," The Virtualization Practice's Norman said.

CloudStack reps said that when Citrix Systems proposed the project to Apache, it re-licensed CloudStack from the GNU GPLv3 to Apache Software License 2.0. "The only thing that changes is for companies that actually distribute the software," said Joe Brockmeier, open source cloud computing evangelist at Citrix Systems. "But for organizations that are using CloudStack, it's really not much of a change."

OpenNebula makes hay with foreign policy

OpenNebula, OpenStack's distant cousin stemming from a common NASA ancestor, is the dark horse in this race, at least stateside. But this candidate has garnered strong support in Europe and Asia. China Mobile Ltd., for example, the biggest of three national telecommunications companies in China, with about 600 million customers, has based internal as well as external cloud projects on OpenNebula since 2009.

OpenNebula has very detailed, well-organized documents and clean source code, said Zhihong Zhang, project manager for China Mobile. It also supports the Xen; Kernel-based Virtual Machine, or KVM; and VMware Inc. hypervisors, as well as virtual LANs, high-availability extensions and flexible driver designs -- and has for a long time, he said.

The general election: Open source vs. proprietary platforms

As in U.S. presidential races, whichever candidate emerges from the primary election must then face a challenger from the other side of the aisle -- in this case, proprietary cloud management platforms, such as VMware's vCloud.

For enterprises trying to make this choice, Forrester Research's Staten said, the ultimate answer depends on why they're building a private cloud. If it's because private cloud is the next logical step after server virtualization and consolidation, vCloud Director and its ilk will probably be preferred, Staten said. "If your objective, however, is … a private cloud that is something that as closely as possible mirrors public clouds but exists within [your] four walls, then you should be looking at these open source solutions," he said.

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

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