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Is the Open Stack Cloud Announcement a Big Deal?

Posted by Bob Warfield on July 19, 2010

Open stack MIGHT be a big deal, it awaits adoption to see.

In discussions with the Enterprise Irregulars, the question came up of whether it was a good analog to view Open Stack as the “Android” to Amazon’s “iPhone” (where is their antennagate?).  This is an interesting metaphor as much for what it tells us about where it doesn’t fit as where it does.  It is a good analog to Android in the sense it gives a lot of helpless hosters a shot at the Cloud much as Android gives helpless handset makers a shot.  Similar to the Android, a lot still depends on how well the handset guys do their part, how many great apps wind up on the platform, and on how well the market likes the combined offerings.  Substitute “hosters” for handset guys, and let the other two stand when talking about Open Stack.

I can’t emphasize the point that there is more here than just the Cloud Software.  This goes to the essence of Software as a Service.  It isn’t just software, it’s the whole Service.  In a related discussion, someone came out with the line that SAP ByD was “real but maybe not cost effective.”  ByD has been plagued by delay and the company has said the delays where because the architecture could not be delivered for a low enough cost.  Clearly SAP can write an ERP system.  But just as clearly, a SaaS system that works, but is not cost effective is not a SaaS system at all because the service can’t be delivered.  It’s the sound of one hand clapping.  Yet, a lot of otherwise reasonable folks just can’t fathom that distinction. 

The inability to fathom the difference with the hosters may fall to the other side.  SAP gets software, but apparently not delivering it as a service.  In some sense, there may be a lot of data center providers who understand how to deliver a service, but not a Cloud.  This is why I am harping on all that it takes beyond the software to get it right.  Amazon has clearly gotten it right, and while many argue it is very early in the Cloud market, yet their momentum gets harder and harder to catch as each day passes by.  I look to Salesforce.com as an example for where we are in the market.  Not long ago they passed $1B in revenues.  That’s a big accomplishment for a SaaS company, yet not really big at all for a Software company.  Does anyone really believe they can catch Salesforce at CRM?  Even a really big company?  The EI’s, who argue it is early yet for SaaS ERP, and hence okay for SAP to be so late, hold up Salesforce as an example of too far ahead for SAP or Oracle to catch.  For those that argue it is very early in the Cloud, consider:

-  Amazon will be at $1B (apparently critical mass for SaaS CRM) in the not too distant future.  Can a competitor get it together and grow fast enough to keep that gap from going over $1B with Amazon?  If $1B isn’t the danger zone, what is?  How long did vendors like DEC let the IBM PC gain momentum before it was too late to catch them?  How long did the PC have multiple operating systems before Microsoft’s advantage was too great?  None of these are exact analogies, but there is a critical mass.  If it is reached without meaningful competition, Amazon has won until the next paradigm shift and their opportunity to succumb to Innovator’s Dilemma.

-  Unlike the Android metaphor, Rackspace ain’t no Google.  It lacks the resources on both the marketing and the development side to build the buzz and build the innovation that Android has.  Strong Brownie points for invoking NASA, BTW, for your buzz side.  Lots of us geeks still love the space program.  Not clear we love NASA for what has happened to it though.  Or, as I am fond of saying, “We can no longer fly supersonically as civilians, put men on the moon, or get through an airport without removing our shoes.  Progress?  What progress?!??”

-  Also unlike Android, it really isn’t clear why Open Stack is great.  Open ain’t enough, particularly with a group arguing that Amazons APIs ought to be a standard and Amazon continuously innovating and cutting prices while many can’t seem to even get in the game.  If the Amazon API is available from more than one vendor, it starts to be pretty open.  Rackspace wants to spark up the “avoid lock-in by choosing us debate“, but pre-Open Stack, Rackspace was the one locking you in more than Amazon.  I guess this is a great example of Jean Louis Gasee’s admonition that if you can’t fix it, feature it (great article on antennagate, BTW).

Ironically, after I published the blog post on Amazon API’s becoming a standard, and hearing a great hue and cry about all the things it couldn’t do, Amazon launched a whole raft of new features.  Cluster Compute Instances, in particular, offer the ability to couple servers in a low latency subnet for cluster computing.  It’s pitched as being all about making Cray-Supercomputers-On-Demand available to all comers (some cool ideas about what I’d do with that!), but ironically, the low latency is exactly what a lot of the detractors of Amazon-API-as-Standard said couldn’t be done.  I know Amazon didn’t build it in response to my blog’s comments (LOL!), but I chuckle at how it came out a couple days later and is focused on exactly the problem being complained about.

BTW, sorry for the OT, but read this guy James Hamilton’s blog for lots of good scoop on scaling and data center architecture.

Getting back to the Rackspace Open Stack announcement, there is a lot of nervousness in the Not-Amazon-But-Wanna-Be-Cloud-Kings herd.  It’s understandable.  Not much to point to for scale in the Cloud world but Amazon.  Concerns that it may be running away with the show.  Concerns that the early decision to wait for someone else to figure out the Cloud because we can always jump in if it looks real enough may have been a bad decision (that Innovator’s Dilemma is a B*atch to face!).  There is an interesting post on GigaOm about VMWare looking ahead to the day when server virtualization might not matter because of Cloud Computing.  That’s an ideal line of thought for VMWare CEO Paul Maritz.  After all, his alma mater Microsoft was always worried back in the day about who might “Microsoft” them.  Of course it happened anyway, multiple times and I personally think they did it to themselves by thinking of the problem as holding on to existing markets at all cost.  Innovator’s Dilemma strikes again.

Nevertheless, the herd is restless.  You can smell the fear.  Open Stack is a good response, at least it is something, and from a company that actually is in the Cloud.  As I said in the beginning, it will be a function of how well the Kieretsu cooperate.  Cloud Computing, like SaaS, is holistic.  Barney partnerships can’t make it go.  If the partners aren’t pretty darned good at working together, this announcement could simply turn out to be one of those frequent bits of “the enemy of my enemy…” desperation marriages of convenience we see so often. 

It’s all about how much wood they can get behind the new arrow.  If I had to make a prediction, it isn’t a Big Deal for the Cloud.  It will largely give the “Private Cloud” (which isn’t the Cloud, but that’s another post) new ammunition without affecting Amazon much at all.

Bears close watching.  Good times for customers in Cloud Computing–we love competition!

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5 Responses to “Is the Open Stack Cloud Announcement a Big Deal?”

  1. CloudCEO said

    Open Sourcing is often the last act of a desperate competitor. Rackspace’s Cloud based revenue is the rounding error on Amazon’s. They had no choice but to try to use the “open” card against AWS. NASA was upset with Eucalyptus (a lesson not likely to be lost on new CEO Marten Mickos) and Citrix and Intel join ever initiative that comes along. Everyone else associated with open cloud is a start up looking for some space on the marquis.The Irony of the open cloud announcement is that it will probably help Rackspaces main competitors in the hosting space most as they can now quickly build their own cloud businesses. It will hurt the small innovators like Enomoly and the other, more fully baked open source projects OpenNebula and OpenQRM most. The big incumbents couldn’t care less as private cloud drives sales of their products. So the net is a flailing big company crushes several small innovative efforts, empowers it’s competition and generates a bunch of hype. Nicely done…

  2. smoothspan said

    CloudCEO, I tend to agree. BUT, if they do get it together, and it takes a lot of moving parts, it isn’t too late to make a difference. After all, you could have said the OS and DB market incumbents had hopelessly strong advantages and momentum when Linux and MySQL showed up on their doorsteps. Nevertheless, I think it is harder to do a decent Cloud as a loose Kieretsu.

    Cheers,

    BW

  3. CloudCEO said

    Sure – it could happen. So far the number of really successful open source projects can be counted on three fingers – Linux, Apache, MySQL. That’s it. Rackspace and friends are trying to do two of the three (Linux and Apache) by trying to create a dominant platform AND a new Open Source Foundation. I wish them luck, will certainly port Smartscale to the platform (assuming it is in fact AWS compatible) but I won’t get to excited about if for a few years..

    Ray

  4. [...] Bob Warfield of Helpstream: Open Stack is a good response, at least it is something, and from a company that actually is in the Cloud. As I said in the beginning, it will be a function of how well the Kieretsu cooperate. [...]

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