Since the National Security Agency's PRISM surveillence program was leaked to the press in June, the public and corporate backlash has some analysts estimating billions of dollars in losses for the IT services industry. In this context, developing an open source alternative to commercial cloud platforms becomes even more important, argues Brian Aker, a fellow in the HP cloud services division.
In projects such as OpenStack, contributors have the opportunity to build cloud software that's not only transparent, but also highly customizable "so that there is no option to recover user data, for example," Aker says.
OpenStack, which is HP's cloud platform of choice, is still a work in progress, however, and has many technical challenges as well as opportunities. In his keynote talk at LinuxCon and CloudOpen  in New Orleans Sept. 16-18, Aker will lay out the project's specific successes and challenges.
Here, he addresses open cloud skeptics; the role of Linux in the open cloud; HP's commitment to OpenStack and involvement in the project; and how PRISM has affected enterprise cloud strategy.
Why does an open cloud matter and are there still people who need convincing?
Brian Aker: If we go back in Linux or open source history, people didn’t necessarily have a vision beyond providing tools. But some folks didn’t buy that; they wanted a fully fledged operating system. The vendors tried to say you don’t need to do that, and yes we’ll charge you thousands of dollars for a feed compiler -- tools that nowadays people wouldn’t pay for. Then we had FreeBSD and Linux come out and yet the vendors continued to say you don’t really need that. They were dismissive and hostile and then they went out of business (or changed their strategies to adopt Linux).
When we look at cloud right now it’s interesting to read some of the apologists who say we just need open source tools, not an operating system. They say, “Amazon is great, just use their API. Why do we need to do everything different?” It’s the same problem decades later. The cloud is like a distributed operating system that requires many different systems and if we don’t wish to all be sharecroppers again, it needs to be open source.
What is the role of Linux in the open cloud?
Aker: Linux is one of the most integral pieces to the whole thing. It’s the base OS that is the one of the main functioning building blocks of this whole thing. The bigger picture is that there‘s a new stack, and LAMP is a component of what is a much larger architecture.
What is the biggest challenge facing the open cloud today?
Aker: There’s a lot of support for OpenStack but we have to engage in it to turn out a high quality implementation that can compete with what Amazon has today. Historically there was MINIX. Linux went a step further to turn it into a system you could rely on. You saw companies that are very commercial step in to help evolve it in that direction. It’s the same with OpenStack. There are missing components -- pieces that still need to be written. It’s a wide-open opportunity.
Is the post-PRISM debate over security making enterprises rethink the open cloud?
Aker: This is where open cloud becomes even more important. It gets people thinking about whether they want to do a public or a private cloud. And it drives home that they want some transparency in the software that’s being used.
If you look at the big cloud competitors, they’re everywhere from proprietary to extremely proprietary. That’s concerning. PRISM is the most proprietary cloud built, there’s no transparency about what’s happening there.
With the open source cloud we can bake solutions into this that are extremely useful long term, so that there is no option to recover user data, for example.
What is the role of Linux and open source in HP's cloud strategy?
Aker: OpenStack is one of HP’s strategic pillars moving forward. It’s the same thing that occurred a decade ago when the company decided to point toward Linux. I’ve been at the company for not quite 2 years and it’s fascinating to watch an entire company move in a set direction. You can see the OpenStack question is in almost everything HP does right now. There’s no second system. This is the road map.
How is HP advancing OpenStack going forward?
Aker: Look at stuff we’ve done in Trove or Ironic. We contribute across the board; it’s not just a single effort. We are touching pretty much every bit of the code and have people working in all aspects of it at this point.
And we are a primary supporter of CI (continuous integration), the basic idea that you don’t commit code to trunk versions of software that hasn’t been run through testing before it gets there. It shouldn’t be innovative but it still is. There are many open source projects at this point that have yet to embrace it. Not in OpenStack, though. It’s a pure CI project.