On Its 3rd Birthday, The Cloudy OpenStack Is A Marketing Machine, And That’s Just Fine

OSCON, the open-source conference, is in full-gear today and OpenStack is celebrating its third birthday there with lots of fanfare, self-serving platitudes and an infographic — the tell-tale mark of a “we are awesome” campaign.

While I couldn’t care less that an industry-funded foundation turned three last week and is still celebrating, OpenStack is an important effort enabling anyone to build their own cloud service free from the control of proprietary cloud vendors. However, it also has a high PR quotient that can make any seasoned reporter cringe.

But consider the marketing budgets that companies like VMware have. OpenStack needs to be marketing itself in order to survive. If it can keep the developer interest accelerating then it has a fighting chance against Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google and the other players in the market.

The cloud market is just emerging and will take more than a decade to pan out. There is no way Amazon or any other company can build data centers all over the world to fulfill every cloud-computing need. But OpenStack can be a blueprint for any provider to build out their own cloud. They may not get the level of innovation that comes with AWS, but they will get the foundation to create something of their own.

I don’t buy the myth that the vendor-driven nature of OpenStack makes its future a big question mark. They have to make tough decisions such as what Cloudscaling CTO Randy Bias made clear in his open letter this morning. Sure, the competition with AWS, Google Compute Engine and Windows Azure is more intense than ever and poses questions for the cloud strategies of Rackspace, HP, IBM and Red Hat — all major investors and participants in OpenStack. But to capitulate is not in the DNA of these companies.

Instead, they will have to cooperate through OpenStack and compete on that basis with AWS. Krishnan Subramanian, now a cloud evangelist with Red Hat, notes that an organization like OpenStack is a test bed for this new way of competing. Defining the foundation is the first priority.

But becoming too caught up in its own grandeur is OpenStack’s biggest challenge. There are some big egos in this group and they all want to take credit. How many co-founders are there with OpenStack? Ten? More? That says it all.

Piston Cloud’s Joshua McKenty is arguably one of the more brilliant people who I talk to about the cloud world. But you tell me what you take from it after reading his words to his “daughter, OpenStack” that he penned in a blog post last week:

By many popular measures, you turn three years old this week. But when do you actually start charting a life? Was your birth at the PR event in July, or rather the first release of source code (May), the first design summit (June) or concurrent with the birth of the first actual human OpenStack *baby* (Lily Andrews, August 2011).

Regardless of the date, I must say, I’ve never had one of my children grow up this fast. While only three calendar years have passed, Ohloh says that you represent 379 years of effort. My dear, you certainly look good for being 379.

Rackspace even made a mini-documentary about OpenStack and how they started it all:

I am all for the self-promotion. There is this myth that foundations should keep their marketing costs down and instead put the money in the organization. I say that’s a sure path to irrelevance. AWS, EMC, Google, VMware and the rest spend millions in marketing, so why should OpenStack hamper itself by keeping its mouth shut?

So keep it coming, OpenStack. Cut the birthday cake and pour a glass of champagne. The money spent is worth every drop.