Google officially is joining the open-source OpenStack Foundation today as a corporate sponsor. Google's sponsorship isn't about advocating for a rival cloud technology, but rather about helping boost interoperability across clouds, using container technology.
Google, of course, has its own cloud technology that is not open-source. In that light, Google's Cloud can and should be seen as a rival to OpenStack, which powers both private and public clouds around the globe. However, Google is not undermining its own cloud by becoming a sponsor of the OpenStack Foundation; rather, it is deftly taking the initiative to improve support for its own cloud technologies.
The key is Docker containers.
In the pre-container era, cloud users were somewhat defined and constrained by the cloud vendor platform they chose, with cross-cloud interoperability being more of a myth than practical production reality. Containers change the equation and level the playing field for application workload compatibility and interoperability across clouds.
The ability to run containers on a given cloud, however, is not enough in the modern world of high-availability applications. Developers need the ability to manage and orchestrate container deployment, regardless of the underlying cloud infrastructure, and that's where Google comes into the picture.
The Google-led open-source Kubernetes project enables organizations to manage container deployment across different infrastructures, whether that infrastructure is Google Cloud or, for example, an OpenStack cloud.
It's a use case that Google demonstrated on stage at the recent OpenStack Vancouver Summit. Sandeep Parikh, senior technical solutions consultant at Google, was on the keynote stage on May 19 to demonstrate how Kubernetes can work together with OpenStack's Project Magnum, which is a container services technology.
By helping to enable OpenStack usage with Kubernetes, Google is really helping itself make sure that the Google Cloud remains relevant in the container era. With containers, the promise is now that the underlying infrastructure no longer matters for applications, and application portability is just a question of making sure that containers are supported on a given host. Organizations no longer need to first determine if an application can run on a given cloud; instead, the choice is about optimizing for container delivery. Then the question of infrastructure and the actual cloud host just becomes one of availability and performance requirements as well as cost.
Without containers, it is still possible to move workloads from an OpenStack cloud to Google Cloud, but the process and the technologies involved are more bulky and require more organizational planning. With containers and Kubernetes, an application workload is one that has greater portability and should be able to move seamlessly from Google Cloud to OpenStack and vice versa.
It's a powerful model and one that should yield value to both OpenStack users and Google.
Perhaps more importantly though is how Google's OpenStack sponsorship will position Google's public cloud against Amazon Web Services (AWS). Amazon also understands the ascendant primacy of containers in the modern application deployment space. The Amazon EC2 Container Service is all about making sure that containers are a first-class citizen on Amazon's cloud.
Amazon, unlike Google, is not an OpenStack sponsor. That's doesn't mean that it's not possible to have interoperability of containers from OpenStack to Amazon. It just means that Amazon isn't actively working within the OpenStack community to make sure it all works smoothly for users.
To be fair, since its earliest day OpenStack has had various forms of Amazon cloud API compatibility to help enable interoperability. It's just that as a corporate sponsor and contributor to OpenStack, Google now has a differentiated position in the OpenStack community.
Google's embrace of OpenStack is great for the OpenStack community, but make no mistake about it, it's also a solid positioning move.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.