Rackspace is sponsoring an open source cloud computing project, OpenStack, and contributing its own code to it in order to generate more uniform cloud environments in which customers can move around at will.
The move will likely generate new competitors for the Rackspace Cloud. One small provider, cloud.com, is already committed to adopt the project's output. The project also includes participation by Intel and AMD as well as the NASA space agency.
Rackspace's move, as the second largest provider of cloud services, is an effort to compete more effectively with Amazon Web Services EC2, which so far has run away with the majority of the cloud market.
Jim Curry, VP of corporate development, said the number of cloud users is growing rapidly, but the actual amount of money spent on cloud computing this year will only be about $1 billion. "It's hard to say it's a large market yet. The game needs to change. Customers hesitate to participate because of fear of lock in. We believe this stack removes that fear."
Rackspace will sponsor the OpenStack project and issue the resulting code under the Apache 2.0 license. It's first offering, OpenStack Object Storage, is based on Rackspace's Cloud Files and is available now. It's the equivalent of Amazon's S3 storage or other forms of persistent storage at cloud vendors.
OpenStack's next goal is to produce a virtual infrastructure management system, OpenStack Compute, which can scale to millions of virtual servers. "The goal is to have scalability not be the issue," said Curry in an interview. Rackspace itself with nine major data centers in Chicago, San Antonio, Dallas, Hong Kong, London and other locations and many tens of thousands of servers, could use such a system. OpenStack compute is slated to be available this fall, with early indications that it will be ready by October, said Curry.
NASA is a key collaborator in the project, said Jonathan Bryce, CTO of Rackspace Cloud, because NASA needs to handles masses of data and manage large numbers of servers in different data centers. The OpenStack Compute system will use code from both Rackspace's Cloud Servers software and NASA's Nebula cloud system.
But NASA is hedging its bets. It implemented its Nebula data center on a set of APIs from Eucalyptus Systems, open source code that mimics the basic functionality of Amazon's EC2. The OpenStack cloud suite will be based on Rackspace's APIs, whose specifications were placed in the public domain under a Creative Commons license last year.
Eucalyptus Systems is venturing its open source code and products as the basis for building enterprise clouds that will operate in ways that are compatible with Amazon's EC2. Marten Mickos, CEO of Eucalyptus, commented to InformationWeek in an email message that OpenStack is aimed at a cloud with up to a million nodes, while most enterprises will operate far below that level. "If the initiative turns out well, we may very well integrate it and use code from it. Right now, it's too early to judge," he said. Bryce said OpenStack's goal is to build out a set of software for a highly scalable cloud infrastructure, but the project won't necessarily include the business parts of cloud operation, such as end user authentication, chargeback and billing, and virtual machine monitoring.
In many cases, an existing vendor already supplies such business pieces. VMware virtual machines don't run in the Amazon cloud, which runs Amazon Machine Images unique to EC2. So VMware has been trying to seed new cloud suppliers with those business components. Rackspace is one of the suppliers that runs workloads based on VMware virtual machines; Cloud.com is another.
Chris Kemp, NASA CTO of IT, said in Rackspace's announcement Monday that NASA is happy to donate code to OpenStack. "Our perfect scenario is to get out of the cloud R&D business altogether. That would be a great day, if we can bake enough of NASA's requirements into OpenStack. It gets us back into the space exploration business."
OpenStack will also include such open source code as SQL Lite, a lightweight relational database, and the Rabbit MQ messaging system, said Bryce. He said Rackspace has 20 developers working on cloud software and contributing to OpenStack. Four business development staff members will be devoted to it, along with the two likely project leads. He expected Rackspace to have 30 people devoted to OpenStack by the end of the year and 50 by mid-2011.
Future cloud suppliers using OpenStack will theoretically have a common workload load, start and stop set of APIs, a common storage system, and a common virtual machine management system. Different types of cloud services could evolve from such a shared infrastructure, and customers could move from one to another with a minimum of barriers, Bryce claims.
Today an Amazon EC2 user who wants to move to Microsoft Azure, Google App Engine or Verizon Business Cloud will need to convert his workload from an Amazon Machine Image using S3 storage to a new virtual machine format and a new storage API. It prevents many people from adopting cloud computing in the first place because once they're inside one cloud, they may find the barriers too great to ever come out, he said. Rackspace wants to benefit from a more generally available cloud ecosystem, which it intends to help build through OpenStack.