OpenStack: Time to give it up

OpenStack is to cloud platforms what Linux is to operating systems, but that’s probably where the similarities end. Though initially developed by NASA, the open-source cloud platform has seen a rough couple of years, and things don’t seem to be getting better anytime soon. Compare this scenario with the rise of Linux. A big reason for Linux’s initial success was the image Linus Trovalds portrayed when compared to the evil corporate image Microsoft had gained at the time. A large community of developers joined the Linux movement probably solely to spite Microsoft and be on the side of the nice man with sandals and a foreign accent. The marketing and timing for Linux was done so well that it was almost like a choice between the devil and a cute little penguin. As far as enterprises are concerned, Microsoft was never a serious contender in terms of enterprise servers, and while Unix may have seemed to be a reasonable alternative, it needed expensive hardware to run. These conditions were more than ideal for Linux to become what it is today.

OpenStack vs. AWS

Fast forward to 2017. AWS is a well-oiled machine that is taking no prisoners in its quest for cloud supremacy. This is no Unix or Microsoft, this is a company with a growth rate of over 50 percent that at the moment is leaving no stone unturned to make sure it has every last enterprise as a paying customer. Cloud computing is all about pooling resources so that expensive equipment becomes economically viable with the added advantage of paying per use. Keeping this in mind, AWS’s services are, to put it bluntly, just so damn cheap and efficient that it’s going to take a lot more than a bunch of hastily put together tools that control tasks and storage to create any waves here.

OpenStack’s main goal was to make the public and private cloud viable without vendor lock-ins. But with AWS’s cutthroat rates and above-average service, who wouldn’t want to be locked in? The Linux battle occurred because people were unhappy about being locked-in. You don’t see many AWS customers complaining about lock-ins, so it’s almost like fighting a problem that doesn’t exist.

By the people vs. for the people

Another thing people need to realize is that Linux was built by a community of people without any commercial motivation. That’s something that isn’t easy to compete with. What the Linux community actually did is a tough act to follow, and OpenStack’s recent troubles are just further proof that it takes a lot more than open-source code to win a market that at the moment is exploding. Unlike Linux, which was developed by an open-source community from the ground up and later adopted by vendors, OpenStack was originally a commercial product and later released to the community. Quite a difference, to say the least.

A lot of people feel that OpenStack was developed solely so legacy system suppliers could keep their equipment relevant in the face of the possible extinction they faced once everyone moved to the public cloud. So as opposed to Linux, where the “open source” stood for freedom, with OpenStack it’s more on the lines of “constricting yourself” from the agility and freedom that AWS could offer. This is surprising because this is exactly the same market where Linux was a booming success, and it wasn’t that long ago that OpenStack was what everyone was talking about.

An uphill battle

OpenStack has had a number of big-name backers, though gaining support in the enterprise hasn’t been easy. Because OpenStack was developed commercially and then released to the community, there’s obviously some reason behind that move. When a commercial product goes open source, it’s often to gain a community of developers that are going to work on your software for no charge, and boy does OpenStack need a lot of work. This is quite clear in eBay’s efforts to bend OpenStack to their will, and they have been quite vocal about the amount of manpower they had to throw at OpenStack to do so. Not every enterprise has the time or patience to put into OpenStack like eBay does, especially when there are cheap and trouble-free alternatives at every corner.

Changing sides

The question that people should probably be asking is who gains from OpenStack’s success? There aren’t enough people who hate AWS, nor is there an urgent need for an open-source cloud platform. Citrix, one of OpenStack’s main backers, seemed to have a lot to say when they abandoned OpenStack for their latest open-source cloud venture using CloudStack. Though OpenStack is a more mature product than CloudStack, Citrix seems convinced that CloudStack is the way to go. And that isn’t all. HPE, another major OpenStack supporter, has also sold off its OpenStack assets to SUSE and named them as their preferred OpenStack partner.

Behind every alliance there always seems to be an agenda, and though RedHat previously challenged OpenStack’s open-source policy because of its commercial management, they were quick to change their tune once they themselves were involved in the OpenStack cloud project. This has probably caused RedHat to lose some of its own open-source street cred as their objections could be misinterpreted as a tactic to get themselves on board. After all, isn’t RedHat all about commercially managed open-source software?

An offer they can’t refuse

The situation now can be compared to a hasty retreat by most of the big OpenStack supporters. Though they are all still using OpenStack at some level, nobody wants to openly try to fight AWS. The enterprise is all about alliances, and most folks would rather bail and jump ship than try to stick it out. Cisco has gone so far as to discourage its own customers from joining its “Intercloud” and has begun pointing them in the direction of popular public clouds. Citrix has also been quick to point out that its CloudStack has cross compatibility with AWS’s APIs and are going forward with API’s “blessings.” This statement really does make AWS sound like the “Godfather” of cloud computing. And here’s where we really get to the bottom of this story. AWS services are just too economical and efficient, and, in other words, “an offer to good to refuse.” The story really is all about AWS and the way they have singlehandedly dominated the sector.

Every once in a while a technology firm or an enterprise gets a head start in a particular technology wave. Microsoft had it with operating systems, Intel had it with chips, Google with search engines, and so on. When this does happen, it’s pretty hard for the competition to catch up, because with that head start and lead comes lots and lots of dollars that are then spent on maintaining and widening that lead.

Time to let it go

Like a sports team that’s already won the match and is now toying with their opponents just for fun, AWS is leaving the competition far behind. This can be seen in AWS’s new and innovative ideas that just keep coming, right from integrating on demand GPUs in their cloud services to actually transferring petabytes of data in outlandish 18-wheel trucks. If alliances are measured in terms of opportunity cost, the cost to ignore AWS and spend countless hours messing with OpenStack is just too much.

With success after success, it really looks like AWS can do no wrong, and most of the fallout for OpenStack support has been due to enterprises slowly acknowledging that no amount of work on OpenStack is ever going to make it a serious contender in this segment, especially with Azure and Google already fighting hard for that second and third spot. In today’s enterprise, sometimes the most important thing is to realize when the time has come to start backing another horse or risk losing the race altogether. In this case, that winning horse is AWS.

TechGenix photo illustration. Photo credit: Flickr / mick655

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