CloudStack vs OpenStack! Who will win?

I’ve been spending a lot of time working on cloud solutions recently, and have run across this question countless times.  Some are worried about betting on the wrong horse, others already have a stake in it or are linked somehow to those who do, and some simply want to know which is best.  After having gotten to know both solutions, I think this is a short-sighted question, but I’d like to talk a little bit about them before explaining why. If you feel you already know the two well, then skip these sections for the tl;dr version.

CloudStack is the older of the two, and is undoubtedly more mature as of this writing.  It is a full stack solution, the download you get provides management, storage, host agent, EC2 API compatibility, and everything you need to manage a cloud infrastructure. From a development standpoint, there is a CloudStack API for remote control, as well as the ability to develop plugins to modify or add functionality to cloudstack.

It supports KVM, Xen, VMware, and Oracle VM. It has support for bridging, VLAN managementand direct network management, as well as recently added support for Nicira STT and plain GRE isolation for networking(both through openvswitch bridging). For VM disk storage, it allows NFS, Cluster LVM, Rados Block Device(Ceph), local storage, or any other storage that can be mounted as a ‘shared filesystem’, such as GFS or OCFS2. For backups, ISO images, VM templates, snapshots and such, there is a ‘secondary storage’, which is primarily NFS or OpenStack’s Swift object store.

It recently underwent a licensing change and is now under the Apache Foundation, and with that change, some of the components now need to be downloaded separately, such as VMware plugins and other components that aren’t license compatible. The developers are currently working to make that migration, and in the future you may see ‘oss’ and ‘non-oss’ builds for download or be directed in the documentation to fetch a specific package to include a particular functionality.  It of course has the backing of Citrix, is used by large companies like SoftLayer and GoDaddy down to small businesses.

OpenStack started out as a project whose main contributors were NASA and Rackspace. It is younger, but has recently had a lot of news buzz, and is even referred to by some as ‘the media darling’, if an open source project could be described as such. It is a more modular approach. It’s a group of services; the storage service, compute service, network service, and a web dashboard. As such, the installation and management is a bit more complicated, as each service is set up and configured independently, but it’s also a potential bonus in that each service can be swapped out independently with various solutions. Each service also has its own API and could be deployed independently or incorporated into a separate project.

It supports xapi and libvirt based virtualizations solutions, meaning Xen, KVM, LXC, and VMware to the extent in which libvirt is capable. The current networking service has support for linux bridging and VLAN isolation, and a new service called Quantum is in the works which will support SDN based openvswitch isolation like Nicira.  For VM volume storage, it relies largely on iSCSI, and the storage service has the capability of managing many iSCSI targets, as well as Ceph, local and NFS support for VM volumes. There is also an object storage service called Swift, which can be used for generic data storage, and is even run and sold as a separate service by some.

OpenStack is largely backed and used by RackSpace. It recently lost NASA support, but has more than made up for that in good publicity. It has yet to gain a wide install base as of this writing, though there are many contributors and people playing with it if the mailing lists and blogs are any indication.

So back to the original question: Who is going to win?  My prediction is that neither will “win”; this simply isn’t a one-winner game.  Who won between Xen and VMware? Who won between RedHat and Ubuntu?  For all of the posturing that some might do, and the holy war attitudes that grow up around technologies, in the end there is usually room for more than one product. CloudStack seems to be maintaining the lead at the moment, and tomorrow maybe OpenStack will get ahead, there may even be a 70/30 split, but the companies involved and the scale of the market indicate that there will be active development and support for both platforms. This has been evidenced to me in just the past few months, where I’ve seen companies scrambling to provide support for their stuff in both platforms. Companies like Brocade, Nicira/VMware, Netapp, are actively supporting and developing code for both platforms in hopes of driving cloud customers to use their products.

Even if it were a one-winner contest, depending on your size you may be able to influence the race. If you see a tug-of-war in process, with ten men on either side, and you’ve got a team of five behind you, do you need to stop to consider which team you should support in order to back the winner?  Some individuals I’ve heard asking this question should really be asking “which technology do I want to help win?” instead of thinking that they’re an inactive bystander in the equation.

In all of the back and forth, and daily news about who is building what with the backing of which companies, one thing is certain. Cloud infrastructure as a service is going to be a hit.

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