Cloud Foundry foundation prompts open source PaaS debate

A new Cloud Foundry foundation provokes debate about the fate of OpenStack-based PaaS efforts.

Enterprise IT pros who look for industry standards before they deploy new technology will find a cacophony of initiatives, heightened by a new open source PaaS foundation.

The Cloud Foundry foundation, spun out of Pivotal this week, throws down the gauntlet for existing initiatives that aim to create open-source Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings, including projects being developed for OpenStack and Red Hat Inc.’s OpenShift platform.

Cloud Foundry was already an open-source PaaS licensed under Apache 2.0, but now its previous proprietor, Pivotal, allows a consortium of other vendors to participate in Cloud Foundry’s governance. Founding members of the initiative include EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), IBM, Rackspace Hosting, SAP and VMware Inc.

It’s still early for PaaS in terms of enterprise adoption, but it’s become increasingly clear that open source PaaS software backed by enterprise vendor support is the future, experts say.

Now it’s just a question of which software -- and which vendor -- will win out. 

Pivotal has thrown down the gauntlet, saying not only 'you're either with us or against us,' but that 'if you're against us, you're also against the entire ecosystem.'
Shlomo SwidlerCEO, Orchestratus Inc.

This ’Balkanization’ with competing initiatives, each one calling itself the de facto industry standard, presents a potential stumbling block to enterprises experimenting with PaaS, according to John Scott, vice president of strategic development for Windward IT Solutions, an IT service provider based in Washington, D.C.

“Everybody wants the benefits of standardization, and when you get [multiple] competing standards going toe to toe, I think that is a real inhibitor to the progress of the open source track,” Scott said. “And I think that’s going to be a problem in terms of enterprise adoption."

Cloud Foundry has open source PaaS competition

There has been speculation that Cloud Foundry foundation’s development sounds a death knell for early efforts to create OpenStack PaaS features. Still, some industry watchers say the competitive furor in open source PaaS will only intensify as alternative standards contend for a slice of the enterprise pie.

An embryonic OpenStack PaaS project, Solum, is at the center of this debate.

Solum, according to its official OpenStack Wiki page, is “designed to make cloud services easier to consume and integrate into [the] application development process,” and draws on another open-source application container project, Docker, for app portability.

The Solum project is at an early stage of development, in which it is following OpenStack development guidelines, but hasn’t yet been voted on for incubation by the OpenStack technical committee or integration into OpenStack releases.

“Solum was born [because] there are a lot of advantages to having a service that’s native to a particular platform,” said Boris Renski, executive vice president of Mirantis Inc., an OpenStack engineering services firm in Mountain View, Calif.

Cloud Foundry being spun off into a separate foundation doesn’t change that, Renski said.

Cloud Foundry proponents differ, since Rackspace began Project Solum, but has now joined the Cloud Foundry foundation.

“Before, customers might have been looking for Rackspace support with Solum,” said Josh McKenty, CTO of OpenStack distributor Piston Cloud Computing and a member of the board of directors for the OpenStack foundation, who also co-wrote the first integration of OpenStack with Cloud Foundry.

“Rackspace supports Cloud Foundry the way everyone else does, so now there’s no reason to ever use Solum,” McKenty said.

Rackspace is willing to try to straddle both projects rather than abandon Solum.

"Rackspace finds there are two types of platform service layers in demand amongst our customers depending on whether they are coming from a PaaS-centric or IaaS-centric orientation to providing a platform service layer,” said John Igoe, vice president of private cloud at Rackspace.

“PaaS-centric customers might value the cross-cloud portability of Cloud Foundry while IaaS-centric customers on OpenStack might value Solum’s ability to make full use of their existing infrastructure service layer”, he said.  

Meanwhile, Red Hat has also developed OpenShift, an open-source PaaS layer integrated with OpenStack.  The Cloud Foundry foundation presents a threat to these efforts, according to observers, which Red Hat, as OpenStack’s largest contributor, won’t take lying down.

“This is more than a shot across the bow -- this is a game changer for Red Hat’s OpenShift,” said Shlomo Swidler, CEO of consulting firm Orchestratus Inc. “Pivotal has thrown down the gauntlet, saying not only ‘You’re either with us or against us,’ but that ‘if you’re against us, you’re also against the entire ecosystem.’”

In response, Mirantis’s Renski expects Red Hat to double down on OpenStack projects.

“If anything, this is going to give Solum a bigger boost because there are a number of players including Red Hat that are interested in having a vendor-neutral PaaS play,” he said.

Red Hat did not comment.

A tempest in a teapot?

Outside all of this, there are observers who say this inside-baseball bickering still isn’t getting to the crux of the PaaS standards issue.

What enterprise IT truly wants from open PaaS standards is a more efficient application development process at an affordable cost with portability between infrastructure platforms. Right now, the market is a ways away from achieving that vision, according to John Treadway, senior vice president at Cloud Technology Partners Inc. a Boston-based cloud consulting firm.

“The debate people should be having is, how do we level the playing field enough so people are comfortable enough buying PaaS at all?” Treadway said. “What they should be arguing about is how enterprises can take comfort in any vendor selection whatsoever, given the fact that these things operate so differently.”

The market will evolve into a heterogeneous set of best-of-breed standards, Swidler predicted – and only two out of three major layers of that stack are currently being addressed, he said.

In the open source world, OpenStack is serving compute infrastructure, while the PaaS momentum seems headed toward Cloud Foundry. A third component, Big Data services, is taking shape with Hadoop, where Swidler said the new Cloud Foundry foundation should focus its energies.

“The market is voting with its feet and saying Hadoop is the way they want to go for a large portion of workloads,” Swidler said. “And that’s not a piece I see well integrated into the OpenStack or Cloud Foundry ecosystem yet.”

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for Write to her at [email protected] or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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