Assessing OpenStack, CloudStack And Amazon Web Services: An Interview With Floyd Strimling Of Zenoss

In recent weeks, speculation about the commercial viability of OpenStack as a non-proprietary alternative to Amazon Web Services has mounted given the launch of the OpenStack Foundation, the release of the Essex version of its code and the deployment of Beta versions of OpenStack-based public clouds by Rackspace and HP . The debate about OpenStack’s readiness for the enterprise has been rendered all the more intense because of Citrix’s surprise decision to open-source CloudStack to the Apache Software Foundation, thereby creating a competitor to OpenStack overnight. Meanwhile, Amazon Web Services continues its relentless unfurling of feature after feature, and product after product onto its cloud computing platform in an effort to become the web’s one stop shopping ground for cloud software deployment, whether that involves IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, big data, cloud automation, an online marketplace or some combination thereof.

In an effort to obtain industry insight into the three horse battle between CloudStack, OpenStack and Amazon Web Services, I spoke to Floyd Strimling, Technical Evangelist and the Senior Director of Marketing & Community at Zenoss, a leading provider of management software for physical, virtual, and cloud-based IT infrastructures. As elaborated in his responses to the questions below, Strimling noted that OpenStack is tremendously promising but faces multiple challenges in the form of competition from CloudStack, the “staggering” rate of innovation of Amazon Web Services, the danger of Android-like fragmentation within the OpenStack community, and the technical challenge of delivering a “stable, flexible, and useable release that is ready for production deployments.” Strimling also identified “Red Hat as the most likely vendor to succeed in commercializing OpenStack” but refused to count out Piston Cloud Computing and Nebula from the list of candidates that will deliver successful commercialized versions of OpenStack.

Cloud Computing Today: How would you describe the place of OpenStack and CloudStack in relation to Amazon Web Services? Technically, for example, how would you compare CloudStack to OpenStack?

Floyd Strimling: While it is very tempting to compare OpenStack and CloudStack to Amazon Web Services, it is really not a productive exercise. OpenStack/CloudStack are enabling technologies that are used to build private and public clouds while AWS is itself a public cloud. Instead, you’ll need to compare the implementations of OpenStack or CloudStack to AWS and see how they fare. Thankfully, we’ll have that opportunity as two high profile OpenStack public clouds, Rackspace and HP, are released. While most of the technical elite ponders the future of OpenStack, the fact is most AWS customers are less worried about the enabling technologies underlying AWS. Instead, customers are focused on the services AWS offers, the features they provide, and the usability and stability of the solution. This puts Amazon in an extremely powerful position as they are focused on their own path and vision while essential obfuscating the underlying technology.

With regards to the place of OpenStack and CloudStack within the cloud market, they are extremely important as the represent a disruptive force that is open, disruptive, innovative, yet unproven.

I’m not about to step into the emotionally charged arguments of CloudStack vs. OpenStack. It’s really the difference between a commercially polished solution and one that has great promise. In the end, the needs of the users themselves will determine which is the superior solution as well as risks with each product.

Cloud Computing Today: As everyone knows, OpenStack has the potential to significantly impact the balance of cloud computing market share, particularly as it relates to IaaS. What dangers do you foresee for OpenStack in the coming year or two?

Floyd Strimling: While OpenStack has the potential to impact the balance of cloud computing market share, the questions are all about execution. Additionally, OpenStack has plenty of competition within CloudStack, vCloud, Eucalyptus, and more. Will OpenStack clouds have the chance to compete against established public clouds such as Amazon and Microsoft? If so, how?

The reality is OpenStack is full of large and powerful companies with competing agendas. Does Rackspace want to “share” the cloud business with HP or dominate? Does Red Hat want to share the commercialization of OpenStack with the likes of upstart Piston Cloud? This leads these competitors to differentiate their solutions and has the potential to create fragmentation of OpenStack a la Google’s Android. While each provider starts with the same core solution, they innovate around it via features, integrations, or other capabilities.

With that said, the biggest danger to OpenStack may be its ability to create a stable and mature release for its “customers.” After all, OpenStack’s customers are gunning for Amazon and they certainly aren’t standing still. OpenStack must resist the temptation to boil the ocean and instead focus on providing a stable, flexible, and useable release that is ready for production deployments. Time will tell if the OpenStack community is up for the task.

Cloud Computing Today: How do you foresee OpenStack’s most significant technical challenge? What must OpenStack achieve in order to become a credible alternative to Amazon Web Services?

Floyd Strimling: Perhaps the most significant technical challenge for OpenStack is building a commercially viable solution that satisfies the needs of its members while keeping pace with its competitors. It’s a daunting task to know that you have competition from other open source projects as well as public cloud providers.

Again, as OpenStack is an enabling technology, it needs a commercially viable offering that is in production to compete against Amazon Web Services. However, this is only the first step. These OpenStack clouds must have the features, availability, ease of use, scale, etc. to stand up to AWS. The challenge is as OpenStack struggles for technical parity with AWS, AWS is moving forward at a staggering pace offering innovative solutions with seemingly endless price reductions.

Cloud Computing Today: Which vendor or vendors do you see as most likely to succeed in commercializing OpenStack?

Floyd Strimling: I see Red Hat as the most likely vendor to succeed in commercializing OpenStack. After all, Red Hat has done this before and they finally are focused on the cloud. However, Red Hat has plenty of work to do to make this a reality. Additionally, an intriguing partnership of sorts would be if Red Hat and Rackspace created a joint offering. Red Hat would provide the enterprise or private cloud solution while Rackspace would handle the public cloud. In essence, this would give customers the ability to create hybrid environments backed by proven commercially viable companies.

Additionally, I wouldn’t count out Piston Cloud or Nebula as they offer unique solutions that are based on OpenStack. Piston’s ability to utilize a customer’s existing network hardware, such as Arista Networks, to build a secure, open, and easy to deploy cloud is a very compelling solution. In contrast, Nebula’s appliance-based solution offers a simple way to build an OpenStack cloud that appeals to those that prefer hardware-based solutions.


Floyd Strimling is a Technical Evangelist and the Senior Director of Marketing & Community at Zenoss. Floyd has been following the Cloud computing/autonomic computing (and predecessors), datacenter automation, virtualization, networking and security areas now for over a decade. Floyd also writes on technology trends at his personal blog, The Platen Report.

Zenoss is a leading provider of management software for physical, virtual, and cloud-based IT infrastructures. Over 35,000 organizations worldwide have deployed Zenoss to manage their networks, servers, virtual devices, storage, and cloud infrastructure, gaining complete visibility and predictability into their IT operations. Customers include Rackspace, VMware,, LinkedIn, Motorola and SunGard.


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