On OpenStack and the AWS API – Internal Divisions Surface

It’s OSCON week, and three years since OpenStack was officially launched – in that time it’s built a vibrant ecosystem, real world customers and more debate than anyone would have ever imagined. There are some notable critics, none so vehement as Simon Wardley who has opined time and again that OpenStack is a “dead duck”. Wardley – a keen observer of competition and organizational evolution is also, interestingly enough, an adviser to CloudScaling. Interesting indeed since CloudScaling is a strong OpenStack partner and CTO Randy Bias has been on board with the initiative since day one. Wardley’s strongly held view is that OpenStack should capitulate in the face of Amazon’s dominance, a view countered in the strongest way by Rackspace OpenStack evangelist Scott sanchez:

Anyway, the already complex situation is being notched up a decibel or ten today with a publication of an open letter penned by Bias to the OpenStack community in which he advocates an immediate and purposeful embrace of Amazon and the AWS API by the OpenStack community if the project is to survive. Bias is well known for big grandiose statements that are designed to generate significant attention and controversy – this post is likely to similarly be a spark to howls of protest from some and agreement from others.

In his letter Bias not so subtly criticizes the members of the OpenStack community (most notably Rackspace) who, for their own commercial reasons, hold the view that OpenStack should build it’s own set of differentiated APIs. Bias details the history of the OpenStack project and then calls for members to assert their control of the project and to follow a strategy that, in his mind, is in all members best interests, not just those of a single contributor (ie Rackspace).

Bias rightly points out that AWS dominates the public cloud race and suggests that the only way for OpenStack to ensure it is well positioned in the private and hybrid cloud space is to embrace the AWS API set. He also writes of the apparent growth of Google’s own cloud services and contrasts the rise of both AWS and GCE to the marked plateauing that Rackspace is suffering – he then draws the conclusion that AWS and GCE are the natural strategic alignment direction for the OpenStack community. When referring to AWS’ amazing innovation speed, Bias states that:

In 2010, some argued that standardizing on the Rackspace public cloud APIs would allow OpenStack to control the innovation curve instead of Amazon. Since then, Amazon has continued to push new features into production at a breathtaking pace. They are, quite simply, in control of the innovation curve in public cloud. Every public cloud feature added by an AWS competitor is measured directly against what AWS has already built.  OpenStack can be in control of the innovation curve in private and hybrid cloud, but doing so requires that we support the services that are leading the innovation curve in public cloud. For OpenStack to dominate innovation in private and hybrid, it must embrace the public clouds to which enterprises want to federate.

Finally Bias makes a number of proposals:

  1. Embrace major public cloud
    1. APIs: GCE, AWS, Azure, and possibly vCloud
  2. Rename the Nova API to the Rackspace Cloud Servers API
  3. Create a new low level API and move to the bridged API model
  4. Expand testing and the work around refstack
    1. Refstack should focus on public cloud interoperability & hybrid cloud
  5. Embrace existing AWS interoperability testing frameworks
    1. The Cloudscaling aws-compat and the Eucalyptus eutester library are examples

MyPOV

Well, firstly I’d love to be a fly on the wall of the Rackspace executive offices when Bias’ post hits the wire – it’s not going to be a comfortable place. But beyond Bias’ obvious rabble rousing rhetoric, his comments do raise some logical issues – AWS is beating all challengers on both market share AND innovation. GCE, while not disclosing real customer metrics has a significant following for all appearances.

Put simply, the question is whether the OpenStack ecosystem is sufficiently broad to give customers the full continuum of their cloud needs – while there are multiple example of both public and private cloud vendors within OpenStack, if there’s no one delivering a compelling public cloud offering, then the default position for customers is to go for AWS. While Rackspace, HP and others would point to their own public cloud products as being well regarded by customers, as Bias points out – all the public cloud providers together a tiny compared to the AWS onslaught.

Further questions lie about the long term make up of enterprise IT. If the future is, as I suspect, made up of enterprises using lots of different cloud offerings (not so much in a hybrid/cloud migration model but more of a discrete multi cloud approach) then there is less of an urgent need to resolve to one common API set. So long as there are products that give visibility and management over these discrete resources (and this is where Dell, with its recent acquisition of enStratius and dropping of its own public cloud play, is thinking) the actual interoperability or commonality of the different products API sets is secondary.

There’s no denying that life would be easier for many if the AWS API was the industry standard, it’s not however and I’d be surprised if many from the OpenStack community embraced Bias’ call. The balance of power, while much more even then three years ago, still lies with some vested interests so, in the meantime at least, Bias’ letter will get much attention and discussion, but little action.

9 Comments

Leave a Reply