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Apache CloudStack marches on in OpenStack's shadow

What CloudStack lacks in corporate sponsorships it makes up for in user appeal and isn't going away any time soon.

CloudStack doesn't get the same commercial attention as fellow open source cloud project OpenStack, but it continues to quietly plug along with the more narrowly defined purpose of the two.

The latest round of questions about the status of CloudStack arose when Citrix, the largest early contributor to the Apache project, recently joined the list of corporate OpenStack sponsors. And while some have construed the open source projects as analogous, CloudStack supporters don't see it that way.

CloudOps, Inc., a managed service provider in Montreal, works with OpenStack and CloudStack. While the former has been a bit of a moving target in terms of what it is and who is building what with it, the latter remains a favorite for CloudOps because it provides a straightforward cloud middleware to orchestrate the underlying components, said CEO Ian Rae.

"We're always more comfortable with our smaller projects using CloudStack," Rae said. "It just works. It's nothing fancy or sexy, but it runs."

Momentum matters

Citrix's move to sponsor OpenStack is unrelated to Apache CloudStack and more about making Citrix's load balancing tools available on more platforms, said Mark Hinkle, director of open source solutions at Citrix.

"As far as CloudStack and Citrix cloud platform, nothing really changes," Hinkle said. "We're going to continue to support that community and those users."

Cloud has evolved since both projects were introduced four years ago, and people have moved away from the notion of an open source cloud to duplicate Amazon Web Services (AWS) in the data center, Hinkle said. Customers are more educated about the evolving uses available for each, but part of the reason OpenStack has generated more buzz is the different natures of the two efforts.

"There's a lot of activity around CloudStack, but it's probably not gotten and never will get the same notoriety as OpenStack will," Hinkle said. "Part of the reason is it's less vendor-driven and more user-driven and those voices are not as vocal as someone selling OpenStack solutions."

[CloudStack] just works. It's nothing fancy or sexy, but it runs.
Ian RaeCEO, CloudOps, Inc.

CloudStack has traction with service providers in Europe and Asia as well as some large telcos that use it behind the scenes, including Apple, British Telecom, China Telecom, Datapipe and Verizon. But the momentum behind OpenStack inevitably leads to unfavorable comparisons.

"Having IBM, Cisco, HP and Rackspace all buy into [OpenStack] was a pretty big move," said Dave Bartoletti, principal analyst with Forrester Research, Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass. "The fact that major cloud distributions are using OpenStack and building a cloud based on it, that drove enough momentum that there just wasn't enough air in the market for Citrix."

Companies using AWS or the other larger public clouds are fine being all in with their vendor of choice, so that only leaves so much space for customers seeking a more cloud-agnostic option, Bartoletti said.

"For those that really want to stay independent, especially vendors that want to build more portable cloud services, I don't think there's room for too many competing open source projects," Bartoletti said.

It's been a struggle to gain mindshare with all the hype around OpenStack, but critics who use the VHS/Betamax comparison between the two technologies are missing the point, said Giles Sirett, CEO and founder of ShapeBlue, a London-based CloudStack integrator and Citrix partner.

OpenStack is a broad collection of more than a dozen different projects, but CloudStack is just a cloud infrastructure orchestration platform.

"If you're a software vendor looking for a tool kit or looking to build your own product, OpenStack is a great place to be," Sirett said. "If you're a service provider or enterprise that just needs to do this piece of orchestration and fit in well with existing technology without being completely converted to the OpenStack way, then CloudStack wins that use case nine times out of 10."

Citrix CloudStack support, or not

Despite Citrix's continued support for Apache CloudStack, the software could follow a path similar to Xen, another Citrix product that many clouds are based on without necessarily generating revenue for the vendor, Bartoletti said.

"We'll see how long it lasts," Bartoletti said. "If it ends up that supporting it puts a strain on resources at some point, they won't be investing tons more into CloudStack."

Backers of the project say it's garnered a robust community to support it, regardless of how involved Citrix is going forward.

"This project has diversified to the extent that it is now a classic open source project in that it's mainly driven by people using the software -- people who don't have a direct commercial interest, so it's being driven entirely by the use cases," Sirett said.

Trevor Jones is the news writer for SearchCloudComputing. You can reach him at [email protected].

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