CloudStack: Filling Two Niches In Open-Source Enterprise Cloud Management

If you look at cloud computing, you might think, based on the hype, that enterprise-cloud management systems like OpenStack, OpenNebula or Eucalyptus have things wrapped up. But ignore CloudStack at your own peril, because this is a product that deserves a look by IT organizations ready to move into the cloud.

All of these products belong to a class of software known as enterprise cloud management, and they are what large companies use to create a hybrid or private cloud environment. They are all - importantly - also open source. That matters because virtualization giant VMware wants to play in this space, too, with it's own proprietary solutions. More on that later.

CloudStack's readiness was demonstrated quite clearly earlier this week with the release of Apache CloudStack 4.0.0-incubating, a rather unfortunate name that undercuts the serious maturity of this cloud orchestration platform and its capability to be a big star on this increasingly crowded stage.

CloudStack Is No Spring Chicken

Defining CloudStack is a tricky; as a cloud orchestration platform, it is essentially a traffic cop that manages different cloud-based resources from one place. It's the software that responds to any requests for more cloud resources and grants those requests by actually spinning up new servers. Or putting them at rest when the servers are not needed anymore.

CloudStack is the brainchild of Citrix - a company that, until April, was working with the OpenStack Project, then led by Rackspace. What happened in April was unexpected: Citrix pulled out of OpenStack and donated its existing CloudStack project to the Apache Software Foundation, an non-profit organization that's home to projects like the Apache Web server and big-data rock star Hadoop.

Apache Software Foundation Is Not A Loser

Despite the excellent company, some critics of CloudStack saw this as a loser's gambit, perceiving the ASF as a place where software projects go to die. Given the presence of the aforementioned Apache and Hadoop, and a whole slew of other great projects, that perception is, quite simply, dumb. CloudStack's release this week had some serious new features, demonstrating that this software is ready to rock.

Of course, the perception of Apache as an elephant's graveyard may have been framed by the previous big-name open source project to be donated to the ASF: OpenOffice.org, which Oracle gave to the ASF in February. But those circumstances were a lot different: Oracle had so bungled the development of OpenOffice.org, there had been a fork of the project in late 2010. Donating OpenOffice.org to the ASF was widely seen as a mercy-killing, though to be fair, Apache OpenOffice is slowly revving up to speed again.

CloudStack had none of those problems, and exists quite nicely in its new Apache confines. The "incubating" moniker doesn't refer to the maturity of the software, but rather CloudStack's incubator status that all new Apache projects have to undergo to get their governances and licenses to match the ASF's way of doing things.

That's a key distinction, because a lot of detractors tend to think of the open source cloud computing sector as immature, just because OpenStack is that way. On the contrary, CloudStack is a very mature product that's ready to be deployed right now.

CloudStack's Place In The Cloud

CloudStack has two big niches that it's working to fill. First, there are companies that want to start deploying new cloud workloads or want to shift their legacy virtual machines to something more cloud-y, according to Apache CloudStack committer (and former ReadWrite scribe) Joe Brockmeier.

CloudStack also works well with managed service providers who already host virtual machines and want to have a turn-key solution to host a public cloud for their customers.

Nuts And Bolts

This may not sound like terribly exciting stuff, but the nut and bolts of cloud technology are surprisingly important. The fact is, CloudStack is farther along than some its perceived competitors, like OpenStack. And it's a good thing too, because the real competitor for all of these open source cloud platforms will soon be VMware.

VMware is feeling its way in cloud space right now, like a giant in a dark room. Offerings like VMware vCloud Suite and a cautious participation in OpenStack Project development are hints of the company's tentative approach. But pretty much every player in this space knows that as soon as VMware finds the light switch and turns it on, all hell is going to break loose. VMware will cast itself as the de facto king of the cloud, just as it claimed to be the king of virtualization.

This is why software offerings like CloudStack are so important to open source alternatives continuing to thrive in cloud management. Usable open source cloud software is here now, and the myth of it being not ready for prime time should be regarded as just that - a myth.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.