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VMware makes frenemies at OpenStack, but what's in it for IT?

It all depends on how much code VMware decides to submit to OpenStack, but the alliance could potentially make VM mobility across clouds easier.

VMware's new membership in the OpenStack Foundation has enterprise IT pros hoping for more flexible hybrid cloud management.

OpenStack is a conglomeration of open source projects that aims to become the industry standard for building Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) stacks. VMware joining the foundation signals, at a minimum, that its heterogeneous management tools such as DynamicOps will support OpenStack-based clouds. Nicira, which VMware acquired for $1.2 billion in July, is also a strong contributor to the networking project within OpenStack.

If VMware is truly going to support open source, it's great.

Kirk Bellmore,
systems engineer

If VMware submits more code to the OpenStack projects, say, in the area of cloud and hypervisor management, it could result in a standard that makes virtual machine (VM) mobility and cloud bursting easier to implement. That said, it remains to be seen how much code VMware is willing to submit to -- and take back from -- the OpenStack community.

"At the worst nothing changes, but at best it means better interoperability, compatibility and choice for virtualization customers," said Bob Plankers, a virtualization and cloud architect for a major Midwestern university.

VMware officially joined OpenStack earlier this month. The foundation boasts more than 130 member companies, including Rackspace, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Cisco and Dell.

VMware's OpenStack possibilities

If VMware's membership in OpenStack lives up to its potential, organizations might be able to expect a more interoperable cloud infrastructure layer to emerge.

For example, it's easy to move virtual machines from one private data center to another using VMware management tools, but VM mobility in the cloud is much more difficult, said Jerry Nelson, senior manager of Intel systems for Open Solutions Inc., a solutions provider in Cherry Hill, N.J. VMware's membership in OpenStack could make such VM portability easier; for instance, OpenStack has a specification for object storage in the cloud.

"With a little work, you could store files in the cloud, connected to a VM as a logical drive," Nelson said.

VM mobility between private and public data centers, possibly for disaster recovery or avoidance, could become easier if VMware were to allow users to map drives within OpenStack the same way they would an iSCSI device or Fibre Channel LUN, Nelson said.

VMware contributions to OpenStack could also improve cloud bursting, the process of adding public cloud capacity to a private data center in response to a short-term need, said Carl Perry, cloud architect with Dreamhost, an OpenStack-based cloud service provider and member of the foundation.

VMware's OpenStack motives questioned

This all depends on VMware's willingness to contribute to OpenStack, which some IT pros view with skepticism.

"If VMware is truly going to support open source cloud and development initiatives, then it's great," said Kirk Bellmore, VMware systems engineer for a higher education institution in San Diego, Calif. "If it's just one of those things where it's just the hot ticket in town to be a part of OpenStack and they don't really do anything with it, then I think it's a waste of time."

More on VMware, OpenStack and VM mobility

VMware Cloud Foundry on OpenStack puts kibosh on lock-in

OpenStack, VMware join forces

VMware, Cisco propose VXLAN for VM mobility

OpenStack Foundation board member Boris Renski, co-founder and executive vice president of Mountain View, Calif.-based Mirantis Inc., also questioned VMware's motives.

"You can't compete with OpenStack and promote it at the same time," Renski wrote in a blog post.

"For its $200,000 annual gold member fee, VMware just elegantly subdued one of its most feared competitors and we, at the foundation board, allowed that to happen," he added.

It might be in VMware's best interest to contribute to a standardized infrastructure layer at this point, as value in the virtual data center moves away from infrastructure stacks and into management tools.

"VMware is acknowledging it's becoming less dominant in terms of hypervisor technology and saying, 'It's fine if the hypervisor doesn't matter, but we're going to make sure the underlying infrastructure doesn't matter either,'" said Carl Brooks, analyst with Tier 1 Research, based in Boston.

At the very least, VMware's involvement in OpenStack will have some IT pros taking a closer look at the foundation than they would have otherwise.

"It might legitimize [OpenStack] a bit more and get the development moving forward," said Ed Czerwin, a systems engineer for a large medical devices company near Zurich, Switzerland. "The more legit OpenStack can become, the more rock star developers they can attract to contribute code."

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

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