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Is OpenStack the great cloud hope or just hype?

The OpenStack cloud standard has generated a lot of buzz, but IT pros remain cautious as the OpenStack Summit approaches.

OpenStack has been the talk of the town lately, but if you ask enterprise IT pros what the open source cloud project means for their businesses, you might just get a shrug.

People are always going to try and find what they can pick at.

Jonathan Bryce,
executive director, OpenStack Foundation

Public cloud services based on OpenStack are now available, and the project's official governing body, the OpenStack Foundation, recently accepted VMware as an upper-echelon member. Still, as OpenStack contributors, supporters and users prepare to gather in San Diego for next week's OpenStack Summit, the initiative's real-world implications need some sorting out.

"It all seems kind of like motherhood and apple pie," said Mark Schwartz, director of IT for a large insurance company based in the Northeast. "In general, the use of industry standards … does give us more freedom and is something we encourage, even as we continue to work with partners like VMware and IBM."

Schwartz and several other enterprise IT pros said they're aware of the OpenStack cloud standard generally, but they haven't looked too deeply into the project yet.

"We've heard about it, and haven't evaluated it yet, but we might," said Kevin Armour, chief technology officer for a payroll processing company based in the Midwest.

Although Armour's company is a customer of Hewlett-Packard Co., one of the more vocal proponents of OpenStack, it is also investigating other cloud platforms, including Amazon Web Services.

"We'll see where the greatest benefit is from a cost standpoint," Armour said.

OpenStack cloud reality check

Organizations are right to be cautious in their evaluations of the OpenStack cloud right now, according to a recently published report from Gartner analyst Lydia Leong. The report argued against the myth that OpenStack is an open and widely adopted standard. In reality, OpenStack is dominated by vendors and their interests, and some of these vendors have acknowledged that OpenStack won't be able to compare to its commercial competitors until at least late 2013, the report said.

"Vendors, as well as OpenStack customers, often say very different things in public about OpenStack than they do in private," Leong wrote.

There has also been some misrepresentation around OpenStack, particularly the claims of interoperability and portability between OpenStack cloud providers, said David Linthicum, chief technology officer and founder of Blue Mountain Labs, a cloud computing advisory firm.

"It's not been proven in a lab yet that those capabilities are there," Linthicum said. "Or it depends on what you mean by portability. It depends on what your definition of 'is' is and those sorts of arguments."

Despite the creation of a user committee within the OpenStack Foundation, Linthicum doubts enterprises will have as much say in the standard as large vendors.

"They're going to be considered," he said. "They're going to be heard. You know, they'll take your white paper. But chances are, it's not going to change the direction of the software."

Meanwhile, even those predisposed to adopt an open source cloud management platform aren't necessarily doing so, according to a recent survey of some 600 open source users, conducted by open source cloud monitoring vendor Zenoss. More than 82% of respondents said they are not using an open source cloud at all. Among the 17% that are using an open source cloud, a little more than half are on OpenStack.

OpenStack cloud evolution

OpenStack made headlines in August when one of its co-creators, Rackspace, began offering OpenStack-based public cloud services. Red Hat launched its own distribution in August. Some saw that as a sign of OpenStack's enterprise maturity, but others believed it was a sign of too many cooks in the kitchen. (The OpenStack Foundation has 5,600 members in all.)

Proponents point to OpenStack's large governing body as evidence of its momentum.

"It's funny how, if there's a project that only has a couple people on it, then it's a single-vendor project or it's a dead project," said Executive Director Jonathan Bryce at the time of the OpenStack Foundation's launch. "Now that we have a lot of people, people are going to say that's a negative. … People are always going to try and find what they can pick at."

In September, the OpenStack Foundation was launched, and VMware made a splash by joining as a gold member. Rackspace Hosting rolled out an open cloud training initiative based on OpenStack in October.

For OpenStack Foundation platinum member Red Hat, the sizable community is OpenStack's greatest strength. Red Hat officials disagreed that multiple vendor contributors would lead to fragmentation of OpenStack.

"Any code that we write, we do it first upstream … so that [it's] available to anyone," said Gerry Riveros, senior product marketing manager in Red Hat's virtualization business unit. "We never have a model where we have something that we keep proprietary that would [create] a high barrier to switching to somebody else's technology."

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

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Who does the OpenStack Foundation really serve?