Lew Moorman: Open Cloud Key to Modern Networking

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Rackspace President Lew Moorman made a splash late last month with his talk at GigaOM’s Structure conference on vendor lock-in and the cloud. He argued that simply cloning proprietary APIs doesn’t solve the compatibility problem for developers that want to maintain ownership of their cloud applications. Here, he explains and expands on that discussion. In order for true innovation to happen in the cloud, he says, we need to develop open standards as a community. It’s the best way to quickly advance modern computing.

Rackspace President Lew Moorman made a splash late last month with his talk at GigaOM’s Structure conference on vendor lock-in and the cloud. He argued that simply cloning proprietary APIs doesn’t solve the compatibility problem for developers that want to maintain ownership of their cloud applications.

Here, he explains and expands on that discussion. In order for true innovation to happen in the cloud, he says, we need to develop open standards as a community. It’s the best way to quickly advance modern computing.

It’s no secret that Rackspace is placing its bets with OpenStack, the open source cloud platform it launched with NASA in 2010 and will soon turn over to the independent OpenStack Foundation. With OpenStack, Moorman says, supporters are building an end-to-end alternative to proprietary cloud systems and are thus re-inventing the way modern networking happens.

This is the second article in a weekly series on Linux.com that will feature leaders of the open cloud in advance of The Linux Foundation’s CloudOpen conference to be held Aug. 29-31 in San Diego. Last week’s post featured Richard Kaufmann, chief technologist for HP Cloud Services, who discussed how OpenStack can overcome the adoption hurdle.

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Q: How do you define open when it comes to the cloud?

Lew Moorman: The modern computer is really the datacenter. And a key question is: what kind of software runs on that computer? Is that software going to be open? Will it be community driven, free, open and extendable? And what will be the core operating system of the cloud? There needs to be an open alternative.

The proprietary world created Windows and the open world created Linux. It innovated on its own path and made Windows better. The open alternative really has to happen, not only for PCs and laptops but for the cloud. It really is the platform for modern computing.

OpenStack is setting out to be the operating system of the cloud. It has incredible traction and it’s the fastest growing open source project in history. It’s getting contributions from hundreds of companies and developers and maturing rapidly and many people are building businesses around it. It’s the best shot the world’s got for an open cloud.

Q: You created quite a stir in the press with your talk addressing vendor lock-in and the cloud at GigaOm’s Structure conference. What were you hoping to accomplish?

Moorman: Part of what I was talking about at Structure was trying to build awareness of what the cloud really is. The cloud is a very different way of running infrastructure and it depends on the application stack. And when you decide to build your datacenter or all your apps around a certain stack, whether Amazon, VMware or Microsoft, you need to recognize you’re making a big commitment to a stack. Your apps depend on that stack, as if you made a decision to run Java in Oracle databases. These are real commitments.

What we’re trying to make people aware of is there will be an open alternative and it may not be as mature as proprietary systems today, but it’s evolving and we’ll get there. It’s early in the cloud world.

We’re proposing that people be thoughtful about what they’re going to base their future apps on and make a conscious choice. I don’t think the proprietary world should go away. You could use both and many people will. But an ecosystem that’s more fluid and extendible and open is comforting to people. If you look at how modern apps are being built they’re so much more on open technologies.

It requires people to get involved and start using the technology and help it mature. Over time these open projects innovate.

Q: What did you mean when you said the cloud needs to be open from end to end, it’s not just about open APIs?

Moorman: Some people seem to think that APIs are the cloud and one thing that made the cloud so revolutionary is it’s programmatically accessible by API.  But (Amazon) S3 is a really complex distributed system. The issue with a model that says “clone Amazon” is that, unless you have the core technology underneath it, you can’t have a cloud.

We built Swift. It’s a totally distributed system and it’s not exactly like S3. Having API compatibility for the basics like loading and getting an object is very easy but these technologies do complex things and will always be different because there are different technologies underneath. The basic functionalities, like file systems, will be the same in the cloud but all you’ll ever get to is the lowest common denominator.

Q: What needs to happen to make your vision a reality?

Moorman: OpenStack is really setting out to build an open alternative from end to end. They say we’re going to do networking, not just set out to copy Amazon. They’re asking, “How should networking be done in the modern world?”

We need to really innovate and build a visionary system that can power the future of computing. Amazon, VMware and Microsoft don’t have all the answers.

Q: How is Rackspace involved in creating open standards and an open cloud?

Moorman: We’ve made massive investments in OpenStack and spent millions to get the project up and running. We will be handing it over to the OpenStack Foundation over the coming months and then we’ll just be another community member, but a big contributor to the code.

We at Rackspace are in the process of moving fully onto the code. By August the compute side of our cloud will be on OpenStack and we will be launching database and block storage offers that we’ve been working on for 18 or 24 months. We’re putting our money where our mouth is.

We’re also working to help people deploy privately and our services help with private deployments.  Eventually it will evolve from being deployed not just by specialists, but by your typical IT department.

Q: What are some lessons you’ve learned so far in moving to OpenStack?

Moorman: There’s no question these are incredibly complex technologies. We have found that open source methodology for any given project can move more slowly than if you did it yourself because of the community process. But the counterweight is that, because you have so many people participating that in the long run things start running so much faster. But it’s taken a bit longer than we would have liked. We were hopeful it would go faster.

It’s also been a process learning how to build software in the open and work with the community. It’s going, in almost every way, better than we would have expected. We’re working with a lot of companies doing proof of concept. It’s early days for the cloud and OpenStack is on the mind of pretty much everyone in big IT. It has real mindshare with that group and they’re kicking the tires. You can see the community momentum.

Q: How does Google’s entrance into the public cloud provider market change the open source scene dynamic?

Moorman: They’re another powerful proprietary stack. They’ll create a lot of good options for people and it helps validate the future of cloud computing. It looks like they’re targeting very large, at-scale buyers that typically do it themselves today. They have the scale and experience to help people with that. I’d love to see them to embrace an open system but they have their way of doing it and technology they’ve built themselves.

Q: What’s next for Rackspace?

Moorman: We have a whole bunch of products getting ready to launch. Connecting OpenStack from public into the private world is a great value proposition.

The Linux community has shown us the way. We have built our whole business on open technologies from the beginning. We started as a Linux only shop and have built so many internal tools using open technologies and Linux has been the heart of that. The future of computing will be built on open technologies, too.

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View Lew Moorman's Structure conference talk here: