CloudStack to Apache: Brilliant or Boneheaded?

How will history judge the donation of $200 million in code?

Last week's move by Citrix to donate the code for its CloudStack project to the Apache Software Foundation has been praised for its ingenuity. But the real proof will lie in the strength of the community CloudStack must build.

Sure, last week's announcement has essentially formalized the state of war in cloud computing that many of us have suspected was going to happen all along. The dividing line is easier to see than ever: those who support Amazon Web Services (AWS) APIs for services like Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2) and those who don't.

In this war, there is AWS on one side, flanked by vendors like Eucalyptus and Citrix, and Rackspace's OpenStack on the other, joined by even more vendors, such as IBM, HP, and Red Hat to name a very few of a big list.

(For those of you who are about to correct me on the fact that OpenStack does, indeed, also support AWS APIs, this is true. But OpenStack's support of Amazon's APIs is secondary to its own open API offerings.)

The obvious takeaway from the CloudStack announcement is the big hit OpenStack takes from CloudStack's shift away from OpenStack to the Apache Software Foundation (ASF). It's important to note, after all, that once upon a time Citrix launched the very first commercialized OpenStack platform, known as Project Olympus.

And the Rackspace/OpenStack space is rattled; I was away on vacation last week when this all happened, but my inbox has quite a few notes from press reps of various OpenStack players wanting to talk to me and put their own spin on the news.

There are a lot of folks in this cloud computing world that see this new state of affairs as validation that Rackspace and OpenStack are simply not ready for prime time. While I was catching up, I read several pieces that described OpenStack as immature compared to CloudStack's offering, most notably this one from Gartner's Lydia Leong:

"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..."

There are other points Leong and others have been careful to point out: how donating to the ASF neatly avoids the kerfuffle surrounding the governance plans for the upcoming OpenStack Foundation, and how CloudStack's shift from the GPLv3 to Apache Software License will make it supposedly friendlier to corporate contributors.

But in all of this positioning, spin, and characterization of how this was a brilliant move on Citrix's part, there was little to no mention of what made the announcement even more brilliant--dare I say, awesome.

Because while the donation of all of CloudStack's code (including the formally core proprietary bits) was lauded and praised to high heaven, did anyone notice that Citrix just gave away code it paid $200 million for in July 2011? Did we just get misdirected into not noticing something big?

Not really, because the acquisition is not where their mistake was. Citrix was always intending to have CloudStack as an open source project--their participation in Project Olympus and OpenStack demonstrates this. Citrix's donation to the ASF is really no different, it just takes CloudStack out of one open source community (OpenStack) and puts it into another (the ASF).

No, the mistake may have been going with Rackspace and OpenStack in the first place.

That may seem harsh, especially considering that if you wanted an IaaS platform that wasn't Amazon last year, OpenStack was pretty much your best bet. And to be fair, I don't think Citrix could have anticipated the delays it would have in getting a solution to market. And Citrix needs to get such a solution to market, fast. Remember, they just dropped lottery-sized money on all this cloud management software and they need to have something on the books to show for it.

Mind you, I am not sure if the donation to the ASF was such a good idea, either, because as Oracle learned with donating to the ASF, just because you have a great open source project doesn't mean everyone will flock to it.

That, really, will be the final determinant: did Citrix just make a brilliant tactical shift or a move of desperation? It will depend on how active its new Apache community becomes. If it's all-Citrix-all-the-time, then we just saw a bonehead play. But if the community is enriched with a diverse set of contributors and starts churning out product, then history will judge this as a smart play.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Zettatag and Open for Discussion blogs 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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