Every day, the human race uploads more and more of itself to the cloud, trusting in an array of IT vendors to serve us everything from email to games via remote data-centers. Even our old-school infrastructure is becoming cloud-centric, with sensors in everything from factories to car and jet engines uploading incredible amounts of data to workers and engineers. Devices in our homes “talk” to each other.
But even as we sprint toward the future, we risk being trapped in the disastrous patterns of the past, especially when it comes to proprietary systems. At least, that’s the belief of Rackspace CTO John Engates, who gave a keynote about that very topic at this week’s Cloud Expo in Silicon Valley.
Companies are rushing to lock customer data into their specific walled gardens, he argued in an interview after the keynote. That makes it more important than ever to ensure that the cloud undergirding all the various functions of daily life remains open.
“These companies have grown up in the era of enterprise software and they’re addicted to enterprise software margins, magnitudes more profitable than what we make as a hosting company,” he said. “Now you have software companies embracing cloud computing and taking the same enterprise-software playbook they’ve had for years and trying to run it in the cloud.”
Rackspace joined forces with NASA to help develop the open-source OpenStack, an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) platform that launched in 2010. Dozens of IT vendors, including Intel and Hewlett-Packard, have also participated in the project. When Rackspace started to build what eventually became OpenStack, Engates said, “We saw fairly quickly was that it wasn’t necessarily the right path for us and in a broader context not the right path for anyone.” As a result, “We took all the software we’d developed so far and then gave it to the open-source community.”
While a portion of the OpenStack community is committed to the “free” software model, numerous developers have embraced the software with the intention of using it as the foundation for a proprietary platform. While that could lead to some tension between those developers with differing philosophies, Engates views that as better than the alternative. “Is it better to have a proprietary stack with no alternative?” he asked. “Or is it better to have an open-source platform here everyone has the source code at some level?”
Those who use OpenStack to manage a cloud platform without fear of vendor lock-in, of course, would probably answer that latter question in the affirmative. But a lot of companies also stand to profit from walled gardens and various forms of cloud-vendor lock-in; and it’s likely that they’ll use everything at their disposal to push that vision.