OpenStack is staking out a huge swath of territory in a hotly contested area. VMware is already shipping software that covers much the same ground, building on its stellar technology development in virtualization management. My alma mater, Microsoft, is moving in a similar direction with Windows Server and System Center. There are many other smaller competitors -- led by Eucalyptus, which offers private cloud software compatible with Amazon Web Services APIs.
As the crowd settles in for the keynote, I'm reminded of a big player that isn't here: Citrix, an early OpenStack supporter that exited the consortium in a flurry of destructive trash talk -- to launch its own competing cloud operating system, CloudStack. Clearly, the sky-high aspirations of OpenStack both fuel its outrageous momentum and incur the risk of overreach and collapse, as it incites all manner of competition. The promise is big, but the success of OpenStack is by no means assured.
Present at the creationFirst up on stage is Chris Kemp, which is appropriate enough. Smart, self-possessed, and just 32 years old, Kemp is CEO of an OpenStack startup called Nebula, which counts as it backers Silicon Valley legends John Doerr and Andy Bechtolsheim. More to the point, Kemp is OpenStack's most compelling evangelist and a key figure in its genesis.
As the story goes, when Kemp was at NASA's Ames Research Center, he realized the agency's habit of procuring a supercomputer when it needed horsepower for a big, new project was not sustainable. Why couldn't NASA have an infrastructure more like Google's, where you could allocate compute power as needed from a massive pool of machines? Kemp and some forward-looking developers set about writing software for a private NASA cloud that supported this commodity computing goal.
Around the same time, public cloud provider Rackspace, occupying a distant second behind Amazon Web Services in the IaaS (infrastructure as a service) market, decided to cook up an open source cloud management system that would help raise the company's profile.