Open source cloud developers gathered in Budapest last week to pull the covers off the "best kept secret" in cloud management software, although it's been around a while.

While there has been plenty written about open source cloud management platform OpenStack, thanks to the backing it has received from the likes of RackSpace, Red Hat, IBM and HP, Budapest saw developers push the attributes of Apache CloudStack.

Man drawing plan of a cloud server network Image credit: iStock

Other open source cloud projects - like Cassandra, CouchDB, Geronimo, Hadoop, Hive and Tomcat - are getting plenty of attention, but CloudStack has been pushing at the fringes.

At the CloudStack Collaboration Conference in Budapest, CloudStack's backers reeled off an impressive list of active CloudStack users, including Paddy Power, BT, Globo.com, Autodesk, China Telecom, Dell, Walt Disney, Huawei, Orange, Tata and Interoute.

The conference heard that the most prominent advocates of Apache CloudStack are users and not suppliers. As such, it is claimed, the open source cloud management solution doesn't get much of a marketing push. After all, it isn't software users' main job to promote what technology they are using, and when it is open source technology developed by a relatively small community the marketing of the solution is even tougher.

Cloudstack origin

CloudStack can be used to create, manage and deploy infrastructure cloud services. CloudStack was originally developed by Cloud.com in 2010. But when OpenStack was announced soon after, both Cloud.com and Citrix supported OpenStack. Citrix then acquired Cloud.com in 2011, and later ended its involvement in OpenStack to concentrate on supporting CloudStack through the Apache Software Foundation.

Mark Hinkle, senior director of open source solutions at Citrix, said: "CloudStack supports what can be described as a 'minimum viable cloud'." He said this meant providing the "fastest time to value" - a minimal feature set, being fully extensible and scalable, providing big data integration with the likes of Hadoop, and, most importantly for many existing users, he said, the "fastest time to market in the cloud".

On rival OpenStack, Hinkle said: "There are multiple projects going on with OpenStack [via the OpenStack Foundation], while ours is more specific - cloud orchestration through a single interface."

Hinkle says that as most organisations are demanding hybrid clouds, the access to source code that CloudStack provides will allow them to move to hybrid environments quicker. The same can be said for OpenStack of course, but the inference is that as CloudStack is more streamlined with fewer bells and whistles around it when compared to OpenStack, it is easier to deploy for basic cloud infrastructures.

As a result, CloudStack's developers and backers now think it's time for CloudStack to have a wider audience in the enterprise market. Giles Sirrett, who is involved in the Apache CloudStack project, and who is also CEO of CloudStack integrator ShapeBlue, said: "We haven't got a big marketing machine to really push the solution, but it is already providing the essential cloud plumbing for a number of large organisations and more should know about it."

Not that sexy?

Solutions that underpin infrastructure aren't usually seen as that sexy and Apache servers are a case in point, after all, not that many internet users realise that open source Apache servers make most of the internet work.

Hugo Trippaers, vice president of the Apache CloudStack project, echoed the CloudStack marketing concerns though, saying: "We have a problem reaching out to the potential users." As for the CloudStack product roadmap, he said: "There isn't one, it's a community that needs to work towards a steady release stream to deliver new features when they are ready.

"We face a challenge in getting a release cycle in place. If we don't have one it's going to be hard for the community to fix bugs and get features to users."

But there was news on addressing the concerns at the end of the CloudStack Collaboration Conference. Citrix's Hinkle told delegates: "We stink at marketing, and it is hard for a company to contribute to the CloudStack project as we are individuals. We are therefore launching the CloudStack Alliance to address this problem."

Hinkle explained there will be CloudStack board meeting next month that will be used to draw up a framework to promote CloudStack through a trade alliance. "We are a development organisation that needs a marketing organisation, that will help fund future conferences and development."

The question of course from individual CloudStack open source developers will be "what influence will big companies have on the future development of CloudStack if they donate large sums of money to the CloudStack Alliance".

But with an increasing number of organisations now seeing cloud management as a choice between OpenStack and CloudStack, the Apache CloudStack project will have to make some quick decisions as to where it's heading.

Bells and whistles

To illustrate the point, at the same time as the conference in Budapest, news broke that global dating website eHarmony was making strides in migrating its IT infrastructure to a cloud-based environment. eHarmony wants to cut the number of servers it uses, to reduce the amount of storage appliances it needs, and to improve its big data analytics through Hadoop - which will further help singletons find the right partner through its dating websites.

“With this infrastructure refresh, we gain a competitive advantage in the market, leveraging a laser focus on data that drives the growth of the company,” said Thod Nguyen, CTO at eHarmony. “The volume and complexity of the data being managed requires a constant evolution of the IT infrastructure."

The only problem for CloudStack though, is that while Nguyen says CloudStack is a possible option to make further cloud advances for the company, he believes OpenStack scales better. Nguyen told Gigaom: “OpenStack gives you a lot more flexibility in terms of sharing storage through the OpenStack Swift component, as part of a software-defined storage solution. The ultimate goal is to really be able to scale the storage exponentially with minimal operational cost."

As far as eHarmony is concerned, more bells and whistles may have to be added to CloudStack.

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