What's Behind the Surge in OpenStack Consolidations

NEWS ANALYSIS: Why were two OpenStack companies acquired on the same day, and what does that mean for the future of OpenStack?


June 3 was a busy day for OpenStack news, as not one, but two vendors were acquired: First, Piston Cloud Computing was bought by Cisco, and then Blue Box Cloud was picked up by IBM.

Two independent OpenStack vendors picked up in one day was certainly a surprise, but only due to the timing. The simple truth is that many in the industry, including yours truly, have been predicting OpenStack consolidation for years. Simply put, the market can only sustain so many vendors.

OpenStack is an infrastructure play and provides an open integration framework into which any manner of technology or capability can be plugged, including compute, storage and networking. While demand for cloud services is high among enterprises, not every enterprise wants or needs to build its own private cloud and there is only a need for so many vendors.

I've had the good fortune of spending a lot of time with the founders of both Piston and Blue Box, and both companies have exceptional leadership and technology capabilities. Piston is home to one of my favorite marketers in the OpenStack world—co-founder Gretchen Curtis. Curtis has moderated multiple OpenStack Summit panels that I've participated on, and her keen insight of what matters is unparalleled. Her co-founder, Joshua McKenty, was the guy who in the early days of OpenStack I would turn to for the truth about what was going on.

Although I have long respected Piston efforts, it was clear to me and many others that it wasn't going to stay an independent company for long. And McKenty's departure from Piston in 2014 to join Pivotal made it painfully obvious that something was going to happen to the company. In fact, at the recent OpenStack Summit in Vancouver, British Columbia, Piston came up in more conversations than any other vendor as the next company to either be acquired or go out of business.

Piston's founders came from NASA, the birthplace of OpenStack's compute technology. The other company that came from NASA's OpenStack roots was Nebula, which was founded by former NASA CTO Chris Kemp. Nebula had raised $38.5 million in funding but was unable to fully establish itself as a profitable business entity, and on April 1 it ceased operations. Since then, many who track OpenStack have been guessing who would be next, and Piston was a name that I heard more than once.

As opposed to Nebula though, Piston found a buyer in Cisco. Piston recently shifted its strategy a bit—away from being a pure-play OpenStack vendor to focusing on the cloud as a whole. Just a week after Nebula's collapse, Piston announced its CloudOS technology, which evolved out of the company's Piston OpenStack efforts. With CloudOS, Piston became a platform for the deployment of multiple types of workloads, not just OpenStack. Cisco already has plenty of OpenStack expertise, and its CTO of Cloud, Lew Tucker, is the well-respected vice chairman of the OpenStack Foundation. What Cisco needed was more non-OpenStack-specific expertise, and that's where Piston fits in.

Plus, Piston has a number of interesting non-publicly disclosed customers in government that are likely very attractive to Cisco, which makes the purchase all the more appealing.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

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