As OpenStack Matures, IBM Wants A Piece Of The Action

IBM hasn’t been shy about its ambitions to transform into a cloud company, building up a broad portfolio of infrastructure, platform and software services. Part of that strategy has been to be intimately involved with OpenStack, the open source cloud platform. This week at the project’s biannual conference in Vancouver, IBM announced it was expanding its OpenStack offerings.

Specifically, it’s offering a new set of public cloud services in Bluemix, its Platform as a Service and Softlayer, the company’s Infrastructure as a Service offering. The new tools aim to simplify OpenStack. Up until now, for the most part, OpenStack has required a high level of technical expertise, a requirement that has kept many interested companies on the sidelines or working on small experimental projects. IBM and others want to mainstream the project now and by making services available that remove some of that complexity, it hopes to attract more customers.

IBM is hardly alone in the OpenStack space as companies big and small jockey for position in the spirit of competition in a growing market. Other industry heavyweights such as HP, Microsoft, Red Hat and Oracle also have their eyes on this prize. Just last week, for instance, Oracle, which has suddenly made a big play for the cloud, snagged 40 former Nebula employees, the OpenStack startup that closed its doors last month.

Angel Diaz, IBM’s vice president of cloud architecture and technology points out that IBM didn’t just jump on the OpenStack bandwagon. It has been there since the beginning and currently has around 500 developers contributing to the OpenStack project, of which 175 are participating in the summit this week. And these developers are working on code and running workshops, he says.

In spite of its presence and the fact it pays $500,000 a year to the OpenStack Foundation to be a platinum sponsor (and has done so since the start of the foundation), Diaz says there is no special treatment and that there is a clear separation of ‘church and state’.

“We have zero influence on the technical direction of the [project]. Our developers earned their stripes with meritocracy and have no more influence than a guy off the street working on his own,” Diaz claimed.

He says that the company is there simply to raise awareness and fund the ecosystem, but at the end of the day, “OpenStack is about developers influencing developers.”

That’s all well and good of course, but as the project grows and matures, it has caught the attention of these industry behemoths, and regardless of what he says, they each are investing in this project with a purpose. Each one sees a path to actual business and they are competing for a piece of that action.

That said, OpenStack announced a new interoperability standard this week, so as these different entities begin to work inside companies, it ensures there is a base standard that all must adhere to. “We have worked in heterogenous client shops with (Microsoft, HP, IBM) and [this announcement] ensures no matter where the client starts, these [various pieces] work together,” Diaz explained.

The fact it’s open source means that companies like IBM and others (including individual developers not associated with a large company), can add pieces missing from the project, then contribute those pieces in later releases to advance the public project.

Diaz says the focus of the summit has shifted over the years. “For the first couple of years, it was about improving the scale and technology,” he said. As OpenStack has matured, the conferences have shifted to user stories and how companies are using it in practice.

Yesterday’s keynotes included stories from Comcast and Walmart on their implementations, but the focus of the IBM announcement is to move beyond the early adopters and enable other interested companies to get involved too.