As I packed my bags for the trip to the bi-annual OpenStack jamboree for supporters of the open cloud OS, and contemplated a very long flight from London to Tokyo, I thought I’d look at what we can expect and what the OpenStack movement needs to deliver if it is to thrive against its public cloud rivals.

The battleground

There are several main dimensions to the battle for cloud supremacy and here’s a brief look at how OpenStack currently stacks up:

[easy-tweet tweet=”Let’s look at how #OpenStack stacks up in terms of capability, ease of use, ecosystem and sophistication” user=”billmew” usehashtags=”no”]


OpenStack has an impressive array of corporate supporters from HP and IBM to RedHat and Mirantis, all contributing code for the common cause and adding their own OpenStack services. However the level of innovation and rate of delivery of new functionality from rival AWS is phenomenal and would be hard for the OpenStack community to match even if all of its corporate supporters were collaborating in perfect unison – but they’re not. AWS launched 487 services and features this year in the run up to re:Invent (its own fan fest) – everything from developer tools to email services – and then added even more at re:Invent. All of these AWS services contributed to the dominant position of one player – Amazon.

Conversely the OpenStack foundation has just launched Liberty, the 12th version of its cloud OS – the new release being better able to handle network function virtualisation and network virtualisation in its other forms as well as containers (Kubernetes, Mesos and Docker Swarm). Heat orchestration has also been improved with more APIs allowing more automation and integration. While many of the main corporate sponsors have contributed to this and are making their own announcements in Tokyo, they aren’t working with a singular purpose as AWS is. The fact remains that they all have different agendas and are all competing for business in the OpenStack segment (all wanting to be the lead vendor on key engagements) and that many are distracted with other major issues – Dell is acquiring EMC, HP is splitting into two and IBM is reinventing itself.

Ease of Use:

[easy-tweet tweet=”Amazon is nominally a commoditized offering” user=”billmew” usehashtags=”no”]

Amazon is nominally a commoditized offering – i.e. very cheap and easy to use. However it is often criticized for not only being far more expensive than it would first appear (once all the options are considered), but also being somewhat more complex. It realises this and has made strides to address the issues – aiming to make it easy for IT executives and developers to find and use unique tools to solve issues quickly or expand capacity cheaply. For example at re:Invent AWS launched tools to simplify data and database migration to AWS. While AWS has further to go on the ease of use front, OpenStack is way behind – it’s often described as a science project for geeks or even rocket scientists. We expect to see ‘ease of use’ as a major focus in Tokyo.


I was among the 6,000 attendees at the last OpenStack Summit in Vancouver and while we expect more attendees in Tokyo, it is still way below the 18,000 attendees at AWS’s re:Invent. This is just an indication, but given that AWS is on the short-list for nearly all enterprise infrastructure deals, and given its current dominance in public cloud, it has become the first choice environment for many developers, putting the OpenStack ecosystem (however loyal and vibrant) at a major disadvantage. After all if you win the developers, you win the war.

if you win the developers, you win the war


One of the most important battles is going to be for the large corporate clients that have traditionally looked to the likes of IBM, Oracle or HP for their IT needs and who need sophisticated systems to meet their complex requirements. Initially AWS only offered a basic set of compute and storage services so the playing field should be stacked massively in the favour of OpenStack’s major corporate supporters who dominate the corporate IT market with well-established corporate offerings. They also have strong relationships with CIOs and credibility with LOB execs.

While the established vendors (who are also major OpenStack supporters) definitely hold the upper hand, AWS is making a significant challenge. Amazon’s recent launch of QuickSight which sits on its Super-fast, Parallel, In-memory Calculation Engine (SPICE) already leverages AWS and partner data sources like Tableau, DOMO, Qlik and Jaspersoft and could soon evolve to challenge the incumbent vendors for LOB data visualisation services (including business intelligence and analytics). At the same time the AWS Database Migration Service and AWS Scheme Conversion Tool simplify the challenge of switching databases, as AWS directly targets database service renewals and therefore Oracle’s core market. Add to this the AWS foray into IoT and it is clear that the leadership positions of the traditional corporate tech vendors are under assault.

[easy-tweet tweet=”In Tokyo we need to see #OpenStack and its major supports come out fighting” user=”billmew” usehashtags=”no”]

In Tokyo (and beyond) we need to see OpenStack and its major supports come out fighting. They need to move quickly and be aggressive if they are going to make inroads not only against AWS, but against Azure and Google too – and if they don’t then their own respective franchises will increasingly be at risk.

However just as we shouldn’t underestimate AWS, neither should we underestimate OpenStack and with it IBM, HP, RedHat, Oracle and the rest. AWS may well have a leadership position in private cloud, but its revenues of $6-7bn are a fraction of the size of any one of the giants supporting OpenStack and if the threat posed by AWS ever galvanised these giants into concerted and coordinated action, AWS could be stopped in its tracks.

As we wait to see what the OpenStack community have to offer next week in each of these key battleground areas, we took a look at which members of the community were being most vocal.

All the usual suspects appear in our #CloudInfluence list of top OpenStack organisations – appearing somewhat higher in the rankings than they might otherwise do are Dell and EMC as a result of the recent acquisition announcement (the largest in tech history) and also Wipro in regard to slightly unrelated comments from a former employee in the UK that is suing the firm for discrimination and unfair dismissal. In addition, Symantec , which topped the list, had a publicity boost from the sale of its information management business, known as Veritas, to an investor group led by The Carlyle Group together with GIC, Singaporean sovereign wealth fund, for $8 billion.

Index Name Website Twitter
1 Symantec @symantec
2 Dell @dellservices
3 Citrix @citrix
4 Wipro
5 Pure Storage @PureStorage
6 Mellanox Technologies @mellanoxtech
7 NTT Communications @ntt_comms
8 Cisco @Cisco
9 VMware @VMware
10 EMC @EMCcorp

Unsurprisingly Michael Dell appears at the top of our #CloudInfluence list of top OpenStack individuals. He leapt into the lead on the announcement of the Dell EMC deal, but if you exclude him, there is healthy competition among other senior executives from OpenStack’s major corporate supporters, with IBM having the largest number of executives on the list.

Index Name Position Company Twitter
1 Michael Dell CEO Dell @MichaelDell
2 Eyal Waldman president and CEO Mellanox Technologies @EyalWal
3 Robert LeBlanc SVP IBM Cloud IBM
4 John Thompson global SVP of partner and channel sales Symantec
5 Shreya Ukil Former employee Wipro
6 Martin Jetter SVP IBM Global Technology Services IBM
7 Kyle Zimmer President and CEO First Book
8 Charles Liang President and CEO Supermicro @Charles_Liang
9 Oded Sagee senior director of Industrial and Connected Home Solutions SanDisk
10 Chris McNabb general manager of Dell Boomi Dell @chrismcnabb

We are going to track how these lists change over the course of the next week or so and gauge the impact of the various announcements made at the OpenStack Summit in Tokyo.