Dancing Around the Open Cloud

Arthur Cole

Ask any IT professional about open vs. closed platforms, and you'll invariably draw praise for the former, provided it enables smooth integration into legacy infrastructure.

That same attitude is migrating to the cloud, where a broad universe of open technologies freely exchanging data from multiple sources is considered one of the basic requirements for a fully functioning environment, much like the Internet.

That's why the recent release of RackSpace's OpenStack platform has generated so much buzz. Although still in a rudimentary form, the platform offers the possibility at least that the cloud will not fall victim to a few well-positioned companies bent on maximizing profits at the expense of functionality. The release contains an Object Storage module available for production environments, and a Compute module geared for test purposes. A more fully fleshed out version is expected in January, after which development on the open cloud is expected to kick into high gear.

Probably the most interesting aspect of the program is the interest it has drawn from organizations that don't exactly have a clean history with open technologies. And by that I mean Microsoft, which joined the project late last week. While the move clearly gives OpenStack a major shot in the arm by bringing in legions of Microsoft servers under its wing, we can't help but wonder if there is an ulterior motive at play here.

In fact, there is, according to Ostatic.com's Sam Dean, and it has everything to do with control of virtual, and by extension cloud, environments. As is well known, Microsoft is locked in a death grip with VMware over control of virtual infrastructure through their respective hypervisors. VMware currently has the lion's share of the market, so it's no surprise that Microsoft is warning of the dangers of "vendor lock-in" that comes from investing in a proprietary technology.

Competition between the two companies is expected to kick into high gear next year, according to ZDnet's Dana Blankenhorn, considering VMware is about to grab the SUSE Linux platform from the carcass of Novell. That would put the companies head-to-head on the operating-system level as well, except here you would have VMware with an open Linux stack looking to wrest customers away from the proprietary Windows.

It has been said that if corporations were people, as they are deemed to be under the law, they would be committed to mental institutions as narcissistic schizophrenics. That certainly seems to be the case here as both companies try to argue that open platforms are good for the enterprise, except when they're not. And when is that? When they threaten our hegemonies.

The good news, though, is that with both companies using open source to drive a wedge into each other's home turf, perhaps the days of proprietary control are over. After all, if open source cannot thrive in an environment like the cloud, then it was probably a pipe dream all along.

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