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"Why Isn’t Anyone Listening To Randy?" – The Great OpenStack Debate

Since OpenStack is now three years old, such a debate on The State of the Stack is only to be expected

Unless you live under a rock, you will be aware that Cloudscaling co-founder (and now Acting CEO) Randy Bias wrote an Open Letter to the OpenStack community on July 24, 2013, which ignited a Web-wide debate on OpenStack's direction and strategy.

Since OpenStack is now three years old, such a debate on 'The State of the Stack' is only to be expected, and ought rightly to be welcomed. Bias is a  founding member of the Board of Directors of the OpenStack Foundation, and so is a powerful voice. But in the world of IT infrastructure as in all other walks of life, not everyone has the same point of view. In the case of the OpenStack community, the diversity of opinion has been especially broad.

The title of Bias's open letter sums up his position: "OpenStack’s Future Depends on embracing Amazon. Now."

"Our future depends on embracing Amazon," he contends, adding that OpenStack needs to embrace AWS but also other "established" public clouds too such as GCE, Azure, and possibly vCloud.

Since the direction of the OpenStack project is ultimately controlled by the OpenStack community itself, it is to the community that Bias is appealing when he writes:

"[I]t’s time we advocate a public cloud compatibility strategy that is in all our best interests, not just those of a single, albeit substantial, contributor. Failing to make this change in strategy could ultimately lead to the project’s irrelevance and death."

But not everyone agrees with Randy Bias, causing one commentator, "Building the Cloud" blogger Darren Shepherd – whose day job is Cloud Architect at Go Daddy – to lament: "Why isn’t anyone listening to Randy?"

Take for example Robert Scoble.

Scoble works for Rackspace, building relationships with startups and getting to know why they make the technology choices they do. He has also now written an open letter to OpenStack's management. In it, he expresses deep concern that for OpenStack to reverse its current policy and start spending time, energy and resources instead on making OpenStack's APIs compatible with AWS, would mean the loss of its current momentum and trajectory as what he terms an "innovation alternative" to AWS, helping make what he calls "new Cloud systems" and doing "things Amazon isn't able to do."

Scoble's post has provoked, as of this writing, more than 30 comments, some of them miniature positions papers in their own right. And Bias's open letter has generated about the same.

If Randy Bias's argument is correct, the OpenStack Foundation and the wider community of Rackers faces an inflexion point: either it continues to ignore AWS compatability and concentrates on pushing the Cloud technology envelope or it pivots 180 degrees and embraces Amazon and the AWS APIs, making OpenStack 100% compatible with Amazon's APIs.

The COO of the OpenStack Foundation, Mark Collier, does not agree with the Bias analysis. In a recent interview he remarked: "Honestly, it's too soon to tell whether compatibility with Amazon is going to be absolutely critical to the success or failure of OpenStack. The market will make that determination."

Collier, who came to the Foundation from Rackspace, continued:

"But if you think about the OpenStack roadmap, it's not designed to be a carbon copy or a follow-on copy of what Amazon's doing. Obviously they've been blazing a trail, and a lot of the problems that people are wanting to solve will be similar, so I imagine you'll begin to see more and more of the same types of capabilities, but it's really not being driven with the idea of copying Amazon at this point."

To return to Robert Scoble for a moment, he believes that "we are going to see more change in cloud infrastructure in the next five years than in the past 10" and that OpenStack doesn't have the luxury of slowing down while AWS compatability is achieved. Bias in contrast believes that "[e]mbracing Amazon serves the interests of all community members by positioning OpenStack as the best choice for enterprises and SaaS providers that want an ecosystem approach to public cloud, one in which their applications can move to the infrastructure best suited to the job at that time."

The two views are not incompatible. The problem is that the OpenStack Foundation has only finite resources and allocating them to the right strategy at the right time is what matters. So a choice may have to be made between them. Which way will this one go? Both OpenStack Journal and Cloud Computing Journal will of course be following the outcome.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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