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“I think the future's been already written, and it's going to be OpenStack.”

It’s been a busy month for OpenStack, and by extension board member (and Red Hat CTO) Brian Stevens. Last week, the OpenStack Foundation was officially launched with 850 companies and 5,600 individuals pledging support; this week sees the final release of the latest and greatest version of OpenStack yet, Folsom.

The release is perhaps the most important yet of OpenStack’s six releases so far. After all, it’s the first to be considered by Red Hat to be mature enough for commercial release.

Key is Quantum, the new component allowing "network connectivity as a service" between interface devices managed by other Openstack services such as Nova. Although included in the Essex release, it was only as a “basic framework”.

“It's now up and running and useful, and people are using it on a single to thousands of systems,” says Stevens. “To us, that factored greatly in our plans to wait to productise for our customers a solution based on Folsom, rather than the Essex codebase, because we thought this was a pretty needed ingredient.”

While Red Hat may have not been involved in the project from the start, by April this year had become the third-largest contributor of code to the Essex release. With Red Hat now one of the eight ‘platinum’ sponsors of the Foundation, Stevens sits on the its board of directors and has been working hard on the “not-glamorous part” of setting up the Foundation.

One of the most important aspects of an independent Foundation is that it makes the organisation and product “completely neutral”, and therefore far more attractive to other companies.

“Prior to the Foundation, RackSpace owned all the assets, things like the trademark ‘OpenStack’, says Stevens. “RackSpace, on their own discretion, could decide whether you could even call your product OpenStack, how you could use the word OpenStack, control the licensing of their portion of the code on the switch side.”

The change makes little difference to everyday contributors to the project, yet is “subtle, but significant”. “The technical stuff keeps on trucking and running, but I think it gave companies like ours and probably IBM and HP and other larger companies a better comfort level, that their investments today are going to be protected long-term.”

A recent controversy clouded the otherwise sunny founding last month when VMware, long considered a proprietary rival to OpenStack, successfully applied as a ‘gold member’ of the Foundation. Some critics dubbed the move as suspicious, but Stevens - who, as a member of the board of the directors, was part of the vote - is diplomatic.

“I think that clearly VMware - if we went back to pre-Nicira acquisition, VMware clearly found OpenStack threatening. No matter what they say, it's extremely competitive with their legacy products - with vSphere - and we've all seen disparaging remarks. Which is fine, that's just the world of competition.”

But VMware’s purchase of Nicira, which Stevens describes as a “really strong, necessary ingredient for OpenStack”, left the company in an odd situation of being “two companies rolled into one” - one highly competitive with OpenStack, and one actively contributing.

“So, yes it certainly was a unique conversation at the board level on membership. I think the board certainly picked the right outcome,” says Stevens, insisting that “there's no upside in being exclusionary on this, as I see it.”

Stevens also plays down any competition with CloudStack, the Apache project aiming to produce similar cloud software in Java. “As much as CloudStack is good technology and open sourced, there's just no thriving community or industry participation,” he says.

There’s no “ill will” within the Foundation towards CloudStack, insists Stevens. “I would argue that it's not that OpenStack is being dismissive of CloudStack, it's just not the canvas on which the industry is going to solve the open cloud promise.

“I think the future's been already written - that it's going to be OpenStack.”

That future includes Grizzly, the next major OpenStack release, which is set to arrive in 2013. Once Folsom is out the door, the OpenStack community will meet to hammer out the grisly details at a design summit in San Diego next month.

Red Hat also hope to ship their first commercial edition of OpenStack early next year, but will face stiff competition from fellow Foundation members - such as Rackspace, who are already using OpenStack to power their cloud offerings.

It’s still too early yet to predict whether OpenStack will live up to the mantle of the ‘Linux of the cloud’ - but with commercial releases pending and a fully-operating Foundation, odds are looking good.

Elliot Bentley

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