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VMware's Love-Hate Relationship With OpenStack

VMware is one of the leading enterprise virtualization technology vendors, but where does it stand in relation to the open-source OpenStack cloud?


VMware, perhaps more-so than any other vendor on the planet, is responsible for helping enterprises move to more agile and efficient virtualized server infrastructure. Simply put, VMware is the vendor to beat in the enterprise virtualized server space.

When it comes to the cloud though, VMware's dominance is not a foregone conclusion, with Amazon and perhaps more importantly OpenStack, leading the charge. OpenStack is an open-source multi-stakeholder effort that is building an open-cloud platform solution.

Over the last several years, I've seen VMware flip-flop on different occasions about its positioning relative to OpenStack. Some in the media have always seen VMware as obviously being a competitor to the open-source OpenStack. This week there has been some media chatter about VMware's CEO saying that OpenStack is not for the enterprise. The truth is, however, somewhat more nuanced.

OpenStack, just like VMware, is not just a single product or thing. It is a collection of projects that collectively can be called OpenStack and includes compute, storage, networking, orchestration and identity services. VMware likewise has its tools including vSphere (with its ESX hypervisor) and the vCenter as well as the vCloud suite of management tools. While vCloud can be considered to be competitive with OpenStack, vSphere ESX really is not.

OpenStack, unlike VMware, is very much about abstraction. It's about enabling a high-level platform of capabilities that other vendor products and services can plug into. For example, in the OpenStack Nova Compute project, a user can choose to use VMware ESX as the virtualization hypervisor.

That's right, VMware can (and does) work inside OpenStack.

Back in October 2012 at the OpenStack San Diego Summit, I watched in awe as then-CTO of VMware Steve Herrod explained how the company would be embracing OpenStack, in a limited way. Herrod didn't just do a product pitch on that day; he stood his ground and answered a barrage of unscripted questions from the audience (including a few from yours truly). The vision that Herrod articulated then was of a hybrid world, recognizing the reality that some people don't want a VMware-only stack.

It's a strategy that VMware is already executing on. During VMware's fiscal 2013 second-quarter earnings call at the end of July, CEO Pat Gelsinger spoke very positively about how his company can work in an OpenStack world.

"VMware’s goal is to be the cloud infrastructure software leader, and we've also made clear statements that we are building a strategy that will support OpenStack in a very effective way," Gelsinger said. "We call it our component strategy where we are embracing the OpenStack APIs, adding them to our product and then selling our best-in-class common technologies into this OpenStack framework."

VMware is also one of the leading vendors and drivers behind the OpenStack Networking project (once known as Quantum, now being renamed to Neutron). That effort inside VMware is driven by its Nicira division (acquired by VMWare for $1.26 billion in 2012). OpenStack Networking is (just like the rest of OpenStack) an abstraction layer and the VMware Nicira network virtualization platform (apparently due for a major update in a week at VMworld) is a key technology that can plug in.

OpenStack is successful so far and will continue to be successful in the future because it can be all things to all people. It's an open platform that is extensible and enables a vast ecosystem of vendors to participate—even those that some might see as rivals, like VMware.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.