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Citrix Turns CloudStack Away From OpenStack to Apache Software Foundation

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Citrix has revealed plans to open source its CloudStack IaaS solution to the Apache Software Foundation under an Apache 2.0 license.

Previously, Citrix had intended to integrate OpenStack with CloudStack in the form of an offering known as Project Olympus, which was unveiled last year as one of the first commercialized distributions of OpenStack. Because OpenStack is one of the world's largest open source collaborations on cloud computing, a CloudStack product offering whose IaaS code was based on OpenStack would have represented an inter-operable, open source-derived product that avoids vendor lock-in by interfacing with other OpenStack-based products. Today's announcement, however, represents an abrupt change of course by Citrix with significant implications for OpenStack, Amazon Web Services and cloud inter-operability more generally.

CloudStack will be released for public deployment immediately under the stewardship of the Apache Software Foundation (ASF), which takes credit for successfully incubating the likes of Hadoop and Cassandra. Citrix's press release commented on the decision to open-source CloudStack with ASF as follows:

Elevating CloudStack into a full open source Apache project will further accelerate its mission of delivering a powerful, proven, hypervisor-agnostic platform that helps customers of all sizes build true Amazon-style clouds... This proven method for incubating and advancing leading open source cloud projects is ideal for bringing a vibrant community of vendors and developers together to accelerate innovation, interoperability and standardization.

Rather than waiting for OpenStack to iron out issues related to its governance structure and choose whether to officially endorse the Amazon Web Services API, Citrix decided to open source CloudStack immediately. In a conference call the day before the publication of the press release, Citrix identified four attributes required of the ecosystem supporting their platform: (1) the platform must be fundamentally cloud-based; (2) production-level ability to scale; (3) Amazon Web Services compatibility; and (4) open source. Citrix's Sameer Dholakia, Vice President and General Manager of the Cloud Platforms Group, spoke to GigaOM about the difficulties of integrating with OpenStack by noting: "Our very explicit public statement had been that we were going to try and build atop the OpenStack platform... [But] we can't afford to wait a year or two for the technical maturation process that needs to happen [in order to integrate CloudStack and OpenStack]." Gartner's Lydia Leong elaborated on Dholakia's concerns about OpenStack's immaturity by comparing CloudStack with OpenStack:

What makes this big news is the fact that OpenStack is a highly immature platform (it's unstable and buggy and still far from feature-complete, and people who work with it politely characterize it as "challenging"), but CloudStack is, at this point in its evolution, a solid product -- it's production-stable and relatively turnkey, comparable to VMware's vCloud Director (some providers who have lab-tested both even claim stability and ease of implementation are better than vCD). Taking a stable, featureful base, and adding onto it, is far easier for an open-source community to do than trying to build complex software from scratch.

The other reason for Citrix to turn away from OpenStack concerns its equivocation support for the Amazon Web Services API. Lydia Leong continues: "OpenStack's community has been waffling about whether or not they want to continue to support an Amazon-compatible API; at the moment, OpenStack has its own API but also secondarily supports Amazon compatibility." Citrix continues its support for the Amazon Web Services API for its Apache-based CloudStack offering as well as its commercial counterpart although Amazon Web Services has yet to officially endorse it.

Turning over CloudStack to the Apache Software Foundation makes good business sense, according to many analysts. James Staten of Forrester Research noted that Citrix's decision to hand over CloudStack to the Apache Software Foundation constitutes an astute strategic maneuver to recoup some of its investment in the $200 million Cloud.com acquisition that formed the foundation for its CloudStack offering. However, Staten observes that the question now is whether other vendors will follow suit and break away from OpenStack as well:

For a company that needs revenue now and has a more mature solution, a break away from OpenStack, while politically unpopular, is clearly the right business decision. The key question this raises is whether the move will be followed by others who need revenue now. At the fall 2011 OpenStack Design Summit there was a low rumble of discontent that the OpenStack code was not maturing fast enough.

Staten's remarks point to concerns that OpenStack code was failing to develop at the pace required to stay commercially competitive in the IaaS space. Given the recent Amazon Web Services-Eucalyptus deal, which consolidates the positioning of the AWS API, and today's move by Citrix to turn over CloudStack to an Apache 2.0 license, the obvious question is whether OpenStack can innovate at a pace that maintains its contributing base of supporters and roster of commercial deployments. Once seen as a possible counterweight to Amazon Web Services that offers the lure of cloud-interoperability, OpenStack is running up against the clock ticking on the maturity of its code as well as the robustness of its API as an alternative to the Amazon Web Services API.

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