Snowden, OpenStack and the Hong Kong Connection

NEWS ANALYSIS: What is the link between the whistleblower and the open-source OpenStack cloud platform?

HONG KONG—Six months ago, the world was turned upside down when then-unknown National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden turned up here in Hong Kong and disclosed what is likely the biggest intelligence leak in modern history.

Snowden's disclosure has led to a culture of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) about U.S. tech vendors and, in particular, U.S. cloud vendors, but here in Hong Kong this week, cloud technology originally born in the U.S. might well just change that.

The OpenStack Summit is here this week, showcasing a technology originally born through the co-operation of NASA and Rackspace and now one of the fastest-growing open-source collaborative software development projects of all time. Six months ago, before any of us had ever heard of Snowden, the NSA got up on stage at the OpenStack Summit in Portland, Ore., to provide some heavily redacted details about how the U.S. spy agency is using and also contributing to OpenStack. The NSA staff has also played a key role in helping to secure OpenStack and harden it for production usage.

No, the NSA is not putting back doors into OpenStack, an open-source framework with hundreds of active developers. It is somewhat ironic that the same organization that has (through the Snowden leaks) done so much to damage the state of the U.S. cloud industry is also helping it with OpenStack. The NSA needs OpenStack as much as anyone though—it too needs robust cloud technology, and that's what OpenStack delivers. Step back from all the revelations about the NSA overstepping the boundaries of privacy and remember that it collects massive amounts of data and has constantly evolving needs—in my view that's a perfect use case for the cloud.

OpenStack isn't just about the U.S. cloud industry, and that's why the Hong Kong event could well be the most crucial milestone yet in the open-source cloud platform's nascent existence. OpenStack is now a global community. At the event this week, we'll hear from made-in-Hong Kong efforts including Titan and China's United Cloud. Vendors from around the world are making OpenStack their own. While OpenStack was born in the United States, it is open source and is the domain of the Free World and all those that embrace the tenants of software freedom and the open cloud.

While the NSA can and does benefit from OpenStack, so too can those that are now affected by the FUD surrounding U.S. cloud vendors.

In my view of what constitutes a cloud utopian vision is this: Everyone runs OpenStack—albeit their own compatible flavor—matched to their own particular needs and technology tastes (choose your own vendor, hypervisor, networking and storage). When the time comes due to FUD or otherwise to move from Provider X, interoperability across OpenStack implementations means you can move to Provider Y, whether that provider is in the U.S. or Hong Kong. That cloud utopia doesn't quite exist today, but it's not all that far off.

The event this week will showcase and educate Hong Kong about OpenStack, and it will also educate the world about OpenStack outside of the U.S. The event will also drive the platform forward, as the design summit for the next release of OpenStack, code-named Icehouse, is also here, and it will have a strong global influence.

Snowden came to Hong Kong to leak information in the hope that he could reveal privacy violations and excessive government snooping. OpenStack comes to Hong Kong with a very different purpose: to share information and to build a new technology platform that anyone can benefit from, even Snowden's former employer.

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.