OpenStack accepting VMware was a mistake

[“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” – Sun Tzu – In other news @VMware joins @openstack.]

This tweet by @cloud_borat says it all.

Subduing OpenStack is exactly what VMware did by joining the foundation. Every enterprise considering OpenStack that we ever encountered at Mirantis was primarily interested in OpenStack as an open alternative to proprietary VMware. While in reality OpenStack and VMware are different kinds of beasts, perception-wise there is no argument: enterprises see OpenStack as a substitute for VMware.

Now, with VMware in the OpenStack foundation, every enterprise buyer will rightfully ask the question: “If OpenStack is not competing with VMware, then what the hell is OpenStack?” Well, VMware has prepared a clear answer that is eloquently portrayed by the picture below:

Apparently, OpenStack is just that one small square next to AWS, CloudStack and “Other” in this huge ecosystem, where everything else is VMware. Oh, and by the way – VMware also has an offering that is just like OpenStack. The fat rectangle, I suppose, represents its superiority over options listed to the right.

This picture gives the complete answer: “If you are a corporate buyer, VMware will give you an end to end solution. And if, for some weird reason, you want to substitute VMware’s superior infrastructure management suite with OpenStack – it’s OK too.”

OpenStack foundation members are there to contribute to the foundation’s mission – to protect, empower and promote OpenStack software. VMware’s vSphere offerings constitute the majority of VMware revenues and (as VMware itself depicted above) compete with OpenStack. Just last spring VMware publicly touted OpenStack as “relatively immature” as compared with vSphere. You can’t compete with OpenStack and promote it at the same time. So what am I missing here?

Now, one might argue that all of the above is a bit high level. Let’s try to be more concrete.

ESX is, by far, the most popular enterprise hypervisor. Yet, there isn’t a single OpenStack deployment on ESX. Why? Because for any of the ESX enterprise features to work (for instance live migration) you will need to buy vSphere. ESX is purposely designed to make it unfit for use with any orchestration engine other than vSphere / vCloud director. Unless you pay for vSphere, you can’t use ESX with OpenStack. And if you DO pay for vSphere – OpenStack’s value in the equation becomes extremely marginal. If VMware has truly embraced the idea of interoperable, multi-vendor clouds as it depicts in the picture above, the first thing to work on is open up ESX and push down some of the basic features (such as live migration) into the hypervisor. Will VMware do this now that it joined the foundation?  I doubt it. Why? Because it will mean promoting OpenStack and cannibalizing vSphere.

As a side note, I’d like to say that none of the above is meant to discredit Nicira’s past and continued contribution to Quantum. Dan Wendlandt and the crew continue to do a great deal for the project. But, as I see it, Nicira was contributing as Nicira, not VMware.

For its $200,000 annual gold member fee VMware just elegantly subdued one of its most feared competitors and we, at the foundation board, allowed that to happen. I fear it may have been the board’s first wrong decision.

27 responses to “OpenStack accepting VMware was a mistake

  1. VMware has recast an entire industry as simply an orchestration layer. The larger size of it’s rectangle represents the larger investment one needs to make in VMware to get it to work (it still won’t scale) and the PaaS layer of AWS seems to be missing altogether.

  2. I think if VMware contributes $$$ and code, then great, if not so what. If they contribute openly the community will embrace it, else it will get tossed to the side. I believe this membership is a very cost effective marketing plan to ease customer proprietary fears by liberally using the slogan “they participate and contribute” to open source and openstack.

  3. Boris, I’m so glad you are willing to tell it like you see it. Please don’t stop.

    This is certainly a risk that VMW will derail OpenStack, but I think there is just a good of a chance that they will legitimize it.

    Perhaps more importantly, having played the Silicon Valley tech game for 20+ years now I don’t think they have malicious intentions. If anything, they are mostly hedging their bets so they can maneuver as things evolve.

  4. I agree with you that accepting VMware was a mistake. As a community OpenStack needs code contribution and evangelism rather than cash that can compromise OpenStack’s original goal at the foundation board level.

  5. Time will tell whether or not VMware plays nice with the OpenStack community by contributing code and promoting the OpenStack framework. The amount of money VMware is paying to get a seat at the table is chump change. I think they were driven to this decision by their acquisition of DynamicOps and Nicira. VMware has larger ambitions and they are best served right now by joining OpenStack. I would like to see them open up ESX and ESXi as a test of their commitment to OpenStack. As Mr. Renski mentioned, Nicira was already contributing to OpenStack. In the end could the OpenStack Foundation board have found any legitimate basis for denying VMware membership?

    1. Tim – thanks for the comment. The legitimate reason could have been the track record of disparaging the project and a competitive situation (vSphere etc.) which clearly precludes VMW from being able to effectively execute on the foundation mission – “promoting OpenStack software.”

      But you are right in implying that should the foundation have declined VMWare, there would have been a lot of finger-pointing to the tune of “antitrust violations” and “OpenStack not really being an open community.” VMWare knew that while them joining will f-up project reputation, their application won’t be denied for the reasons above.

      Shitting on Citrix and CloudStack was another reason they did it.

      Lydia Leong mentioned that Paul Martitz brought on some of the Microsoft culture to VMWare, where he coined the phrase “Embrace, extend, and extinguish”. This is exactly what’s happening here.

  6. Hang on a minute. This all looks like over-reaction. Look at the definition of subdue – “Overcome or bring under control” or “Bring under control by force”. VMware has done neither nor do the by-laws of OpenStack Foundation permit undue persuasion by individuals or corporate interests. This looks like a tactical and strategic play by VMware. Microsoft tried all these scare tactics against Linux … and now they co-exist (perhaps begrudingly) and contribute. Cloud is (relatively) new in terms of its current incarnaton and evolving. As a technologist I would never bet the farm on any one technology as there is always a use case where one product better serves one’s needs compared to another. The diagramme is definitely misleading and skewed in VMware’s interests. I LoL’d at its placement of AWS … AWS ~$2B vs VMware ~$5B. Hardly an also ran. Irrespective, we should still keep our eyes on the prize in terms of OpenStack and that is delivering a superb F/OSS cloud compute platform no matter who contributes.

  7. It is wrong to say “ESX is purposely designed to make it unfit for use with any orchestration engine other than vSphere / vCloud director. Unless you pay for vSphere, you can’t use ESX with OpenStack”.

    Openstack interfaces with Vmware platform through the VIM interface (plesae see the vmwareapi module in nova project). VIM is supported by vSphere as well as standalone ESX host (without vSphere). Therefore, Openstack is able to perform all needed vm lifecycle (creation, boot, destroy, etc.) management on individual ESX boxes without vSphere.

    What vSphere provided (beyond what standalone ESX hosts does) are mostly features that only make sense or need to be preformed across multiple ESX nodes, such as vm migration, location transparent vm folder organization, distributed virtual switch, etc.. If you don’t need these features or intent to provide them by your own or third party services or orchestrators (that is the case in openstack), you don’t need to pay for vSphere at all.

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