The Cloud is now Open

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The era of cloud computing is going through an intriguing phase. Any discussion on this subject brings Amazon Web Services (AWS) to the fore. AWS has contributed so generously to this application field that I often wonder if Amazon is the only savior of cloud computing. It is undoubtedly the foremost cloud service provider. But then there is a recent development – OpenStack – that is ready to wallow in the limelight.

OpenStack is an open source cloud operating system that was developed by Rackspace and NASA in July 2010. It was born with the purpose of enabling any organization regardless of the size to create and offer cloud computing services running on standardized hardware.

The OpenStack Foundation

Developers around the world contribute codes to different projects of OpenStack in Python and are freely available under the Apache 2.0 license.

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While several companies as listed in the above box have participated in developing OpenStack, Amazon has stayed away from this melee. It could be that AWS is the global leader in public cloud services and Amazon refrains from making further contribution to a new space. Amazon launched AWS – a collection of remote computing and web services, back in 2006. Currently, AWS is supported from 11 geographical regions in the world.Customers of AWS include the who’s who of all major markets. Some of them include:

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The history of OpenStack

Developers and organizations are often in the rut of resources scalability to preserve their applications. There is a constant demand for increasing space of servers, RAM, storage, etc. Even if large companies are able to manage these scalability issues, there is a daunting challenge of optimum utilization of these resources.

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Addition of the hypervisor to the virtual server.

As an answer, the concept of virtualization came to life in the previous decade. Virtualization added a hypervisor to the server that allowed people to deploy applications on virtual machines instead of physical machines.

Now, the concept of virtualization seemed great. However, it became complex with the addition of more hypervisors and virtual servers. This increased the difficulty of managing them, as well. The complexity frustrated most application developers and business users as they were unable to get resources on demand and the entire process required automation.

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Multiplicity of hypervisors made virtual servers increasingly complex.

OpenStack seems like a plausible answer to the challenges faced with multiple hypervisors. It turns all the sets of hypervisors within a datacenter or across multiple datacenters into a pool of resources. This pool of resources can be managed and consumed from a single place referred to as OpenStack; a 100% Python platform. One can spin up / configure multiple virtual instances as per requirements using the Dashboard. In simpler terms, one gets access to 5,000 servers at one go with the turn of a knob.

This makes OpenStack a piece of software that sits on top of the hypervisor layer enabling the management of the entire cloud environment.

OpenStack – the three core projects. Source: https://thetechsolo.wordpress.com/2015/01/

OpenStack – the three core projects.
Source: https://thetechsolo.wordpress.com/2015/01/

OpenStack primarily consists of three core projects as shown above – Nova (Compute), Neutron (Networking) and Object/Block Storage. Apart from these three core projects, there are several other projects directly or indirectly related to the above mentioned.

AWS vs. OpenStack: Where each stands

Both the camps have different strength areas. OpenStack is immensely popular among IT giants that are fighting the public and private cloud battle at the same time. AWS is the overwhelming leader in public cloud, an industry that is growing fast.

As a response to the requirement, the current era is tending towards being more distributed rather than monolithic. Members of the OpenStack Foundation vow that vendors should adopt OpenStack not as an alternative to AWS, but as a complementary cloud for better distributed capacity. Hence, when there is requirement of cloud in France, Amazon might serve you from Germany. However, OpenStack has deployments to serve you from Germany as well as France. So, OpenStack comes across more as a technology that enables vendors to use the power of cloud computing in a way that they want rather than being a plain replacement to AWS.

The answer to whether OpenStack can outclass the services provided by AWS in future is still misty. There are discussions related to whether OpenStack should fully support APIs from AWS. More interesting decisions may unfold in future OpenStack Summits as there is lot of developments taking place. But as of now Amazon, clearly seems to be the big fat elephant in public cloud offering.

IP set to attract patent litigation

Open Invention Network (OIN), founded by technology majors IBM, Novell, Philips, Red Hat and Sony to protect Linux from patent trolls, recently warned that OpenStack is going to be the prime target of Intellectual Property hoarders and patent trolls/aggregators. There is nothing like a well-organized IP protection policy for the Open Source project, besides the Apache 2.0 license. Lack of IP protection policy could soon result in a scenario where other entities, which are not a part of OpenStack, start filing patents on the underlying technology.

However, the last couple of years has seen significant number of filings and publications related to the underlying technology of OpenStack, a lot of them coming from Rackspace and Nebula. Nebula’s patent US 20140143401 A1, for instance, describes a hardware “Cloud controller appliance” that when coupled with commodity server nodes can provide a fault tolerant and available private cloud. On similar grounds, Citrix Systems owns patent US 20130212576 A1 that describes a cloud computing environment where physical resource tags are used to store relationships between various cloud computing offerings such as storage offerings, network offerings, computing offerings, etc. When a customer selects one or more cloud computing offerings, a cloud manager retrieves a set of tags and determines the physical resources associated with those offerings. Rackspace owns a patent US 20120233331 A1 that discloses a flexible virtual machine management system capable of instantiating, waking-up, moving, sleeping, and destroying individual operating environments in a cloud or cluster.

As the technology is still in its evolution stage, it seems a lot of patent applications are yet to be filed by individual inventors and tech giants contributing to OpenStack.

None can speak of IP threats better than Rackspace that seems to pursue more of a defensive strategy for OpenStack rather than an aggressive one. The strategy aims to protect OpenStack under Apache 2.0 License that says – ‘if you contribute code to this project, you also contribute a patent license covering what you have contributed’.

With the Cloud Computing industry valued at about $ billion, and with Gartner predicting that at least 50 per cent of enterprises will join the world of hybrid clouds, there is a need to ramp up and ready this industry to function without glitches on and off premises. Competition is set to run rife taking the cloud right up to level nine.

(Featured image source: https://pixabay.com/p-731891/?no_redirect)

Sanchit Arora
Sanchit Arora

Sanchit is a computer science engineer and is mastering the field of Patent Search & Analytics. He loves to read about emerging technologies in computers and automobiles, and is passionate about travelling, music and playing tennis.


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