Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Open Source Cloud, start playing the long game.

Back in 2007, I gave a keynote at OSCON on the future importance of open source and open standards to create competitive utility computing markets (i.e. the cloud). We had a chance for an early land grab to make that happen in what is called Infrastructure as a Service but we lost that battle to AWS (and to a lesser extent MSFT and Google). There are numerous reasons why, far too many to go through in this post.

Just because the battle was lost, doesn't mean the war was. Yes, because of the punctuated equilibrium, we're likely to see a crunch in the 'private' cloud space and near dominance of the entire space by AWS with MSFT following. Yes, Amazon plays a very good ecosystem game and they are a tough competitor. However, in about 10-15 years in what will feel like the wilderness, we will get another opportunity. In much the same way that Linux clawed its way against the near total domination of Microsoft. There are numerous reasons for this, again too many to go through in this post and of course, there could be many twists and turns (e.g. the somewhat unlikely open sourcing of AWS technology).

For the time being, the open source cloud world (and yes by that I mean systems like OpenStack) need to hunker down, to firmly entrench itself in niches (e.g. network equipment), to build up and mature and prepare for the long fight and I do mean a LONG fight. A couple of encouraging signs were @jbryce comment at OpenStack SV 2015 on "having a reason" to build a cloud and not just because it's cool technology along with the discussion on maturity vs adoption of technology. This was good. But afterwards some of the conversations seemed to slip into "the path to Cloud Native", "democratising IaaS", "a platform for containers" (an attempt to re-invent again but around Kubernetes), "the problem is you" (as in IT depts not adopting it), "open source is a competitive advantage" (depends upon the context) and on and on.

You need to remember that for companies who might use these services their focus should (and increasingly will) be on meeting some need with speed (i.e. quickness of delivery), agility (applying more or less resources to the problem as needed) and efficiency (being cost competitive to others). Yes, things like mobility matter from the point of buyer / supplier relationships and in some niches there are location constraints. However, no business under competition is going to last if they sacrifice speed, agility and efficiency in order to gain mobility. To survive, any open approach needs to solve these problems and deal with any issue created by Amazon's huge ecosystem advantage. There is lots of good stuff out there such as Docker and in particular Kubernetes but the strongest plays today in the open source world are around the platform with Cloud Foundry and in the operating system where Ubuntu dominates with some competition from the challenger CoreOS. 

The battle for IaaS maybe lost but the war is far from over and yes, I hear that this or that paradigm shift will change the game again - oh, please don't bother.  The open source world will get another chance at the infrastructure game as long they focus on the long term. Probably the best route of attack in the long term starts with Kubernetes but that's another post.

P.S. People ask why I think CloudStack has a shot. Quite simply, the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) can play the long term game. I'm not convinced that after the crunch that OpenStack will be in such a position. We shall see.

P.P.S. People ask why am I so against OpenStack? This might surprise you but I'm not. However, OpenStack needs to hunker down against the storm and play the long term game. I'm not convinced by its earlier examples of gameplay that it either understands this or is willing to do anything about it.