LinuxCon 2012: OpenStack and Open Clouds

At LinuxCon and CloudOpen this week, attendees are being bombarded with cloud, cloud, cloud. Most of the cloud goings-on revolve around OpenStack, the open source infrastructure-as-a-service project started by Rackspace and NASA. Today SUSE announced their SUSE Cloud product, which is a commercially supported version of OpenStack integreated with SUSE Linux. Red Hat has an unsupported preview release of their OpenStack offering, and Canonical recently announced OpenStack support in the 12.04.1 point release of Ubuntu.

OpenStack isn’t the only game in town. Citrix has CloudStack, and Eucalyptus Systems has their eponymous product as well. But OpenStack is clearly becoming the de facto choice for folks looking for cloud computing.

Jim Zemlin, the Linux Foundation’s executive director, said in this morning’s keynote address that “smart organizations get that they must add value, not try to compete with open movements.” This explains, to a large degree, why OpenStack is enjoying such favor from the major Linux distributions.

Alan Clark, Board chair of the openSUSE project and a Linux Foundation director, was just yesterday elected to be the Board chair of the OpenStack Foundation. I asked him why SUSE chose OpenStack for their cloud product. He shared with me that SUSE explicitly looks to support and adopt established projects. OpenStack had a large, healthy community, so it was the prime candidate.

Clark was obviously enthusiastic about OpenStack. He told me that the OpenStack members are extremely engaged, and full of great ideas. His observations about the work to be done with OpenStack resonate with Zemlin’s keynote remarks: the companies contributing to it are all working to develop a shared baseline, on to which they can provide their own differentiations.

SUSE embraced Dell’s Crowbar project to provide orchestration solutions for SUSE Cloud, making it (at least a little) easier to install the multiple complex components of an OpenStack infrastructure. SUSE Cloud also integrates with SUSE Manager. Red Hat and Canonical will no doubt provide their own features atop the core OpenStack product in ways that make sense for each of those distributions.

Beyond the specific technologies of OpenStack, CloudStack, or Eucalytpus lie an awful lot of important questions still to be addressed. During a panel discussion this morning, representatives from the major cloud offerings identified some of the thornier issues. For example: is it enough to build clouds using open source? There are a lot of free-to-use services built atop open source software that still effectively lock users in. How will open source clouds prevent that?

How can the Four Freedoms of the GPL license be applied to cloud computing? What rights do cloud users have with respect to their data, and how do they enforce those rights? What interoperability is required of cloud solutions to facilitate those rights?

While OpenStack enjoys a tremendous amount of technical innovation, I’m particularly interested in watching how the OpenStack Foundation addresses these questions.