OpenStack is no Linux

Latest OpenStack releases highlight key differences

With the release of a third free OpenStack distribution this week, the heady early days of Linux when New Distros Roamed the Earth seem recreated. But has the past really come back again?

The latest release is from commercial vendor Piston Cloud Computing, which just announced the release of Airframe, the mini-me edition of Piston Cloud's flagship product, Piston Enterprise OpenStack.

According to the company's announcement, "Airframe is a bare-metal cloud management platform that installs in less than 10 minutes and delivers 100 percent of the core OpenStack services, including compute, storage, networking and cloud management."

There are some interesting points to highlight about Airframe: first, it's based on the previous version of OpenStack, codenamed Diablo. (The current brand-spanking-new version is Essex, with Folsolm on deck.) Secondly, one of its touted hooks seems to be a more robust installer, the better to enable users to get this new OpenStack distro up and running.

This is the third OpenStack-based offering from a commercial vendor in the past couple of weeks.

After Rackspace, the primary commercial driver behind OpenStack until the OpenStack Foundation gets started, started offering OpenStack to customers at the beginning of the month, Rackspace made OpenStack package Alamo available for free download last week.

Meanwhile, Red Hat released an OpenStack distribution of its own in preview format last week, too.

Both Alamo and the Red Hat distribution are based on Essex, which by the way isn't that new--Folsolm comes out next month.

A few of things come to mind about this sudden influx of OpenStack offerings.

To start, all of this choice is great. While I don't think there will really be a lot of differentiation between actual software offerings being introduced--it's kind of early in the game to get some real game-changing tech out there--the fact that customers get choice amongst vendors' services is always a good thing.

Secondly: hey, HP, where the heck are you? You were among the first vendors (if not the first) to announce that you would be basing a cloud solution on OpenStack. So, where is it? Sure, I get Rackspace should be the first to get something out the door, but now Red Hat and Piston Cloud have gotten their own code out, with nary a peep from you. Given how you went with big hype and little delivery with WebOS, people are starting to wonder.

And then there's the inevitable comparison between Linux and OpenStack. I have to admit, on the surface, it reads like a made-for-TV comedy movie script: unpolished yet powerful open source software goes to the big city of Enterprise and after a dealing with a nutty set of adventures and wacky nemeses, our intrepid software Makes It Big.

But step back a little, and you will realize that while this could be the story of Linux (more or less), it is not the plot for OpenStack at all.

For one thing, while the origins of OpenStack have that same spit-and-stick feel of getting together some code that Just Worked, the destiny of OpenStack has been very heavily involved with commercial interests from the very start.

This is something that's been noticed before, with Red Hat challenging OpenStack's open source street cred last year before the Linux vendor had decided to throw in its lot with OpenStack. At the time, Red Hat was trying to imply that this commercial management of OpenStack was automatically a bad thing.

Which, given their current involvement with OpenStack, is kind of funny now.

But whether you agree with Red Hat, they have highlighted the fundamental difference between Linux and OpenStack: Linux is a community-built technology that was adopted by vendors. OpenStack is a commercial project that is trying to be released to a community.

These wildly different origin stories may not make a difference in the long run--Clark Kent and Peter Parker have different fictional lives yet no one could take the mantle of hero from them. It could very well be that OpenStack will become a successful open source project on its own.

But I am concerned that this current drive to release free versions of OpenStack could quickly turn away from the old loss-leader model of "use it as you wish, but come to us for service and support" model that permeates the Linux commercial environment. The line between that and open core, which involves releasing trimmed-down code for free with the promise to add on more features with a commercial license, is very thin indeed.

Sadly, there is evidence that this might be the way some OpenStack vendors are going to go. Reading Piston Cloud's press release about Airframe today, I could not help but notice a lot of language about pre-production and application development use.

"With Airframe, business users now have an easy, comprehensive, and free way to evaluate and become comfortable with OpenStack in a pre-production environment," the release stated, later adding: "Airframe is the ideal solution for pilot deployments, POCs and lab environments."

In other words, here's the free code to try out, but come see us when you want to use something serious.

Rather than debate the merits of open core versus open source, I would just like to hold this example up as another reason why folks, including me, should resist calling OpenStack the "Linux of the Cloud." I have strong reservations that this will ever happen unless a purely commercial-free version is available.

To be fair, I have never heard anyone from Rackspace or OpenStack use this label--it was thrust upon them by media and a blogosphere where comparisons like that are the meat for the next deadline. Nor am I advocating that OpenStack should be shunned for these differences. OpenStack is what it is: an open source cloud management platform with heavy commercial interest.

We just have to remember it's not Linux.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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