In The Cloud OS Debate, OpenStack’s Success Inspires Backlash

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Editor’s note: Randy Bias is the co-founder and CTO of Cloudscaling and a founding board member of the OpenStack Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @randybias.

In God we trust. All others bring data.

This quote, widely attributed to total quality management pioneer W. Edwards Deming, came to mind this morning as I read an anonymous Tumblr post (which has since been taken down) challenging my “State of the Stack” presentation. Specifically, the author took issue with my analysis concluding that OpenStack has won the open source cloud wars. There are several problems with the author’s write-up, but I’ll let you read the post and draw your own conclusions. While I generally believe that arguments not supported by data and not signed by the author are not worthy of a reply, the conversation on Twitter today led me to write a response (on which this post is based).

Understand What a Commodity Is

First, the author misunderstands commoditization. Commoditization describes when an atomic capability becomes tradable/sellable. Google says: “A raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold, such as copper or coffee.”

Oil, copper, coffee and coal all are differentiated. There is light sweet crude, Brent, West Texas and others. Copper from different mines has different properties and quality. Coffee is highly variable. Yet all are commodities.

The base unit doesn’t have to be exactly the same, it just has to be measurable in terms of value so that you can compare one against the other. This assertion has been corroborated in recent debates I had with an ex-commodities broker who was very clear that the commodities he bought and sold were quite frequently differentiated and variable. (For those who care, that was James Mitchell, co-founder and CEO of CloudOptions, who was previously Global Head of Commodities for Morgan Stanley.)

Cloud Is Not A Zero-Sum Game

The author’s argument is essentially that if OpenStack is the winner, then everyone else loses. This is not a zero-sum game, so there can be multiple winners. But, as with Linux, it’s likely that there will be a very small number of winners who will mostly dominate, and then there will be a very long tail.

Linux’s success (as you can see in my original slide deck, slide 13) meant that UNIX and other early x86 UNIX derivatives (e.g. SCO UNIX, 386BSD, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD) essentially “lost.”

But Linux “winning” meant that we have a relatively standardized server operating system running globally, which actually increases competitiveness, allows for people to focus their learning and knowledge on higher-value work further up the stack, and makes everyone’s life better. The conclusion that the author leaps to isn’t supported by evidence. It’s simply asserted.

I say this as a long-time BSD guy. I wasn’t happy that Linux won, but I am happy that we have a relatively standard server operating system.

We’ve Seen This Movie Before

To imagine that things will play out differently in the cloud operating system wars than it did in server and device operating systems is nonsensical. Clearly there will be one or two major winners and the data support the conclusion that OpenStack is currently positioned to be the primary winner.

I welcome your feedback. Signed or otherwise.