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Rackspace spins up OpenStack -- will other cloud vendors follow?

Rackspace will offer a public cloud based on the OpenStack cloud software. Whether anyone follows suit remains to be seen.

OpenStack made headlines this week after one of its co-creators, Rackspace, has begun offering public cloud services based on the open source cloud software stack, though it’s unsure how far into the market OpenStack’s “DIY” appeal will penetrate.

So far, public cloud service providers with the development time and brainpower to tinker with software have praised OpenStack for its unique customizability.

“We threw our weight behind OpenStack partially because it was open and so it gave us the ability to go in and drive some changes,” said Carl Perry, cloud architect for Brea, Calif. based DreamHost, which is putting together a public cloud storage and cloud compute offering based on OpenStack and slated to open for business by the end of the year.

One change DreamHost became involved in was the development of OpenStack’s “Quantum” virtual network service, which led DreamHost to network virtualization software maker Nicira (now a part of VMware Inc.).

Prior to Quantum, OpenStack offered two choices for creating cloud networks: VLANs, which weren’t scalable beyond about 4000 tenants, or a flat network in which tenants shared one VLAN broken up by IP space, which wasn’t totally secure.

“Quantum abstracted all the networking functionality in OpenStack away from how it is physically implemented, so … when you say, ‘allocate me a virtual network,’ the plugins that are configured by the operator of the OpenStack implementation will choose the correct technology,” Perry said.

We don’t care about pretty dashboards.

Leandro Reox, senior infrastructure engineer and cloud architect at MercadoLibre

DreamHost needed a customizable stack for storage, as it prefers to use the Ceph system it has been developing over the last seven years over OpenStack’s Swift object storage repository.

OpenStack’s flexibility also extends to the compute layer, Perry said.

“One of the things we’re considering down the road is possibly offering something other than x86 VMs, something like ARM.”

The ability to customize network services outside of Quantum is among its perks, according to Argentina-based MercadoLibre, a staunch OpenStack supporter.

“At network creation time, we need a custom add-on to send API calls to our custom in-house API to create VLANs on physical switches that have no drivers to integrate them with OpenStack or Quantum,” said Leandro Reox, senior infrastructure engineer and cloud architect at MercadoLibre. “So we made an in-house API to interact with our switches.”

Admittedly, this requires a certain level of skill with coding and command-line interfaces.

“We don’t care about pretty dashboards,” Reox said. “We are API- and CLI- oriented guys.”

Even for experienced developers, there are some kinks to be worked out with OpenStack, according to DreamHost’s Perry, which include the formulation of standardized operational best practices for deploying it. This, in turn, makes interoperability between OpenStack clouds or hybrid OpenStack clouds a tricky proposition for the time being.

“A lot of people have deployed OpenStack but not a lot of them are talking about how they’ve done it,” he said. “That’s something we’re trying to address.”

So many open source cloud competitors, so little time
Meanwhile, as OpenStack has developed, competitors such as Citrix Systems Inc.’s CloudStack have also gained a foothold in the market for cloud stack alternatives, which is a busy one. 

CloudStack is definitely a more complete, more mature and polished cloud platform than OpenStack, that's just a fact.

Carl Brooks, an analyst with 451 Research

The good news for OpenStack is the market remains up for grabs, but that won’t be true forever.

“CloudStack is definitely a more complete, more mature and polished cloud platform than OpenStack, that's just a fact,” said Carl Brooks, an analyst with 451 Research based in Boston. “[CloudStack] might have as many as sixty to seventy production deployments; OpenStack might have two dozen or so.”

“To put that in perspective, there are hundreds of vCloud deployments and many, many thousands of VMware environments that might legitimately be called ‘private cloud’ right now,” Brooks added.

Then, there is a panoply of cloud stacks being offered for hosting providers, including OnApp, CA Applogic, ElasticStack, Platform Computing (now owned by IBM), and Virtustream, among others.

“I think it’s fair to say that OpenStack has the greatest share of the attention and the least share of the business at this point,” according to Brooks.

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

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