VMware Poised to Accelerate OpenStack Adoption

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Last week’s inaugural board meeting of the new OpenStack Foundation signaled a change in the organization as Rackspace the driving force behind OpenStack handed control to the newly formed board. Allen Clark director of SUSE was appointed chairman, with Lew Tucker Cisco’s VP and CTO of cloud joining the board as Vice Chairman. Members of the OpenStack community who had voiced concerns that OpenStack’s founder Rackspace’s had too much control over the project should be please by these appointments which are seen as key to establishing OpenStack’s bona fides.

One company that was watching the board meeting closely was VMware who had applied to join OpenStack as a gold membership along with Intel and NEC. All three companies were left kicking their heels when the board meeting ran out of time and who did not get to the applications. Foundation Executive Director Jonathan Bryce said that will happen at an upcoming meeting, the date of which has still to be determined. Following the recent acquisition of OpenStack member Nicira, VMware’s application is almost certain to be approved. The question is what form will VMware’s participation take?

VMware has been pushing its proprietary vCloud as the OS of choice for the cloud in competition with OpenStack – see here for Bernd Harzong’s take on the the vCloud Suite. At the same time though VMware has shown that it is willing to participate in the open source arena. VMware’s release last year of Cloud Foundry as an open PaaS offering is a case in point. Mike Norman offered his explanation of why VMware should merge Cloud Foundry with OpenStack here, a move that will only gain momentum wants VMware’s application to join OpenStack is accepted.

OpenStack is a framework for managing virtualized data center services. It doesn’t do any of the virtualizing itself. Instead vendors including Canonical, Red Hat, Piston Cloud, and of course Rackspace are packaging the OpenStack bits and adding value in a manner in the same way that commercial Linux vendors do with their various Linux distros and support offerings. From this perspective it offers no immediate threat to VMware. However, as these package solutions mature they will start to compete more directly with VMware’s offerings, both from a management perspective, and on the underlying hypervisor platform. Take into account VMware’s recent changes to its licensing scheme and the inevitable path to reduced revenue that this dictates in order to continue to grow VMware has to identify new markets in which to compete. Faced with the choice of OpenStack or the Citrix dominated CloudStack, the move to embrace OpenStack is clearly the right direction for VMware.

In many respects the key to OpenStack and VMware’s participation is the $1.26B Nicira acquisition. The software defined networking services that Nicira delivers are arguably the most important component of the software defined data center. Without this the full benefit of virtualization will not be achieved and without that, cloud services will never reach their full potential. Nicira gives VMware proxy membership of OpenStack today, when inevitably VMware’s request for membership is approved, it will hold a key position in OpenStack with its control of both market-leading hypervisor and software defined networking platforms on which the other OpenStack members will deliver services.

The other OpenStack members should not fear VMware’s participation, VMware will inevitably accelerate OpenStack’s momentum delivering benefits to all participants and increasing pressure on OpenStack’s competitors to divert more resources to their projects or accept a shrinking market share. At the same time Clark and Tucker and the rest of the OpenStack board should be able to keep VMware from pulling OpenStack off course.