Rackspace Spins Off OpenStack Cloud Computing Project to New Foundation

Rackspace has cut the umbilical cord with OpenStack, setting up a foundation to lead the open-source cloud-computing project it launched with NASA just a year ago.

A little over a year after NASA and hosting company Rackspace launched OpenStack, the open-source cloud-computing project is being spun off to an independent foundation to drive future development efforts.

Rackspace announced the spin-off and the establishment of the OpenStack Foundation at the OpenStack Conference in Boston on Oct. 6. The trademark and copyrights will be transferred to the not-for-profit foundation once it is operational. The structure and the processes are still under discussion, and Rackspace will gather feedback about those from the community, Mark Collier, vice president of business development at Rackspace, wrote on the OpenStack blog.

"The foundation will need to be flexible enough to attract innovative contributions by organizations of all kinds, while protecting the OpenStack brand, maintaining a quality platform and allowing participating organizations to benefit from the shared development," Josh Crowe, Internap's senior vice president of engineering, wrote on the company blog.

Many project supporters had expressed concerns over the past year about the project's governance and what they viewed as unilateral decision making. Rackspace strengthened its investment in the project when it acquired Anso Labs, a company that worked with NASA's Nebula, which is incorporated into OpenStack, but critics worried it gave the company too much say over the project.

"Rackspace is trying to control OpenStack rather than influence it," Rick Clark, a former Rackspace engineer and an OpenStack contributor, outlined his concerns about Rackspace's role within OpenStack earlier this year.

As long as Rackspace owned the project, developers were concerned they ran the risk of having their code contributions becoming the property of another company if Rackspace is ever acquired. "What happens if Rackspace is under new management, say Oracle, for example?" Clark asked.

Last year, a group of OpenOffice.org developers had broken away from the open-source office productivity suite project after Oracle acquired Sun, the original sponsor of the project, and seemed to be controlling the OO.org's direction. The developers established the Document Foundation to support the new LibreOffice. The Linux Foundation provides a similar supporting structure for the largely independent development of the Linux kernel. OpenStack Foundation will allow third-party development of the cloud operating system without vendor control.

"The promise of a vendor-neutral, truly open cloud standard is within reach," Collier wrote.

OpenStack's goal was to produce a standardized set of open-source software components for building elastic cloud-computing environments. It has attracted a large audience of contributors-about 110 companies and organizations-and adopters, including Disney, Sony and Fidelity. Both Dell and Hewlett-Packard combine their hardware with OpenStack to offer cloud-ready products, and Internap and Piston Cloud Computing offer commercial products and services.

OpenStack is actually a combination of several different projects, with separate modules addressing different parts of the cloud environment, such as computing functions, storage and dashboard.

If "done right," the foundation will help move OpenStack from a growing open-source project to a leading platform capable of meeting the world's technology needs, according to Crowe.

"The news of an OpenStack Foundation is really the final step in the process of Rackspace turning OpenStack loose to control its own destiny," Joshua McKenty, CEO and co-founder of Piston Cloud Computing, told eWEEK. He said it was an "important move" because it would help answer "what it truly means to be OpenStack and which commercial entities can actually call themselves an OpenStack solution."