OpenStack vs. Amazon: The Power of Distributed Computing

At the OpenStack Summit in Paris, the OpenStack Foundation's Mark Collier discusses the open-source cloud effort versus Amazon and why one cloud doesn't fit all needs.

Mark Collier

PARIS—OpenStack and Amazon aren't necessarily direct competitors, though both are competing for a slice of enterprise budgets for cloud services. At the OpenStack Summit here, Mark Collier, chief operating officer of the OpenStack Foundation, delivered the second-day keynote today, explaining where he sees Amazon and OpenStack in the cloud market.

Collier was joined on the keynote stage by vendors including Expedia and Tapjoy, both of which use both OpenStack and Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Collier began his keynote with an altruistic discussion on how the power of distributed computing can change the world. With the increasing adoption of smartphones all over the world, the ability of humans to communicate, collaborate and organize for change has grown like never before.

"I think that everyone should have access to technology and the economic opportunity that it brings," Collier said.

He added that ubiquitous connectivity with a smartphone is a form of distributed power, and it affects the whole world. Once upon a time, the power rested with the guys in suits, he said, but that's no longer true. Anyone with connectivity now has the ability to influence and effect change.

"Economic opportunity is now becoming more distributed; it's not just a handful of countries," Collier said. "Ubiquitous connectivity and mobile collaboration are powering all that, and it's all backed by the cloud."

The power of distributed computing should also include choice in Collier's view. He noted that it was not all that long ago when IT would build enterprise users their Windows machines, and there was little choice. Today, users can buy their own devices, and there is a lot of choice.

"Over the long run, distributed beats monolithic," Collier said. "There is a monolith in the room that we can't ignore."

Collier's monolith is Amazon, and he noted that while cloud architectures are distributed by nature, the actual power of the cloud in terms of vendors has not historically been distributed.

"If one monolithic provider was enough, then what are you all doing here?" Collier asked. "What we really need is not one vendor; we need one stack that we can collaborate on across the industry with input from users."

That stack in Collier's view is OpenStack, which benefits from the contributions of more than 2,700 developers and 125 companies. OpenStack is also more distributed in terms of deployment and access for users. To illustrate his point, Collier showed a world map identifying the locations of Amazon data centers. While Amazon has a data center in Germany, it does not have one in France.

"So if you need a cloud in France, they [Amazon] say they can serve you from Germany," Collier said. "That's not capacity; that's audacity." In contrast, there are OpenStack cloud deployments across France as well as Germany.

Although Collier did criticize Amazon, he emphasized that the purpose of his keynote was not to bash Amazon. There are many vendors that use both OpenStack and Amazon, he said. The goal of OpenStack is not to be a monolith that replaces another monolith, but rather another choice in the distributed computing ecosystem.

Weston Jossey, head of operations at Tapjoy, joined Collier on the keynote stage and explained how his company has stood up an OpenStack deployment for its private cloud needs, while still having an Amazon public cloud deployment as well. It's a sentiment that was echoed by Rajeev Khanna, vice president of Global Infrastructure Services at Expedia, which also uses both Amazon and OpenStack.

"OpenStack has no natural enemies," Collier said. "Open source is not about enemies; it's about using technology in the way that you want."

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.