OpenStack, collaboration and competition
A lot of the open source projects I really dig are things like Syllable OS, a non-Linux-based attempt to create a 'best practices' open source desktop operating system, and Uzebox, a really cool 'retro-minimalist' games console based on open source hardware.
I'm much more into the geek side of things than the business side of things. But open source these days is undeniably a vital element in the business models of many massive enterprises; you don't hear much about free software being some commo plot these days (of course if it was a commo plot, I'm the kind of lefty ratbag who would know about it. So maybe I would say that.)
So while my interests will often lie with less well known open source projects (semi-obscure sounds uncharitable), it's impossible to ignore the massive open source projects out there that have serious corporate backing (including, of course, the Linux kernel itself).
Not only are some of these massive open source projects seriously exciting, but they show, once again, the advantages that open source development can sometimes have over closed models.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Mark Collier, vice-president of business and corporate development at Rackspace, who is one of the people involved in the OpenStack project. OpenStack, which is about a year and a half old now, is open source software for building public and private clouds. The project was launched thanks to collaboration between NASA and Rackspace, each of which brought different software technology to the table for building OpenStack.
How Rackspace ended up pushing an open source Cloud project makes for an interesting story. "I was at Rackspace at the time and we were looking kind of our position in the market knowing that we were the second largest cloud and we have a lot of momentum, but also knowing that Amazon was really doing an amazing job on the technology front in terms of advancing their platform very quickly," Collier says.
"So we were looking at our options for ways to accelerate our roadmap, ways to develop technology going into the future. And we started to really seriously consider an open source development model for how we develop software, so we could build an army of developers, engineers throughout the industry — not just people we could hire at Rackspace to try to compete against some of these giants like an Amazon or a Google."
It turned out that NASA had been working on the compute side of Cloud computing, while Rackspace already had a mature object storage system. Those pieces combined essentially make up OpenStack, which has received an impressive array of support. Earlier this month at CES US telco giant AT&T announced it would deploy an OpenStack-based Cloud. Other companies involved in OpenStack include familiar names such HP, Intel and Dell.
So in short, OpenStack is serious business. And pretty much a perfect case study of the strength of open source development.
(I'm currently working on a feature for Computerworld Australia that will include OpenStack, so keep an eye out on newsstands. I'm also prepping an online feature for Techworld. So, er, keep checking out the website!)
Follow Rohan Pearce on Twitter: @rohan_p
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