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Cloud Expo: Opinion

Did Citrix Stack the Cloud Deck?

It's probably one of the most important defining moments in the evolution of open clouds

With an estimated $200 million bet on Cloud.com, if nothing else, executing an all-in open source strategy proves that Citrix doesn't shrink in the face of high-stakes decisions. Cynics call this recent move an act of desperation - a Hail Mary in the absence of a better play. Others see it as a coolly calculated strategy to disrupt OpenStack momentum by capitalizing on vulnerabilities exposed by slow product advancement and signs of potential misalignment within the community.

My tendency is to dismiss the cynical assertion as sour grapes and competitive mud slinging. After all, CloudStack is certainly the real deal as measured by product maturity and customer adoption. Half-baked, it is not.

But the second assertion begs its own question: As a founding member of the OpenStack project with support pledged before the Cloud.com acquisition and extended thereafter, why would Citrix now choose to throw OpenStack under the bus? That's the question we're all pondering.

In recent months, much of the positive mojo around the OpenStack project has given way to grumbling about stalled progress and faint suggestions of provincialism and heavy-handed governance within the community. In its own public statements, Citrix has asserted that the pace of product maturity gave them no choice but to kick-start a community of their own.

Citrix is also on the public record with accounts of spurned attempts to contribute CloudStack code to the OpenStack community. To be fair, we're talking about one product written in Java (CloudStack) and another written in Python (OpenStack). It's rare to find developers who are passionate about both, so I suppose that could have unnaturally divided the community.

But I believe the bigger issue is that Citrix finally concluded that, as much as they may try to thread the needle with nuanced parsing of logic, the truth is undeniable: CloudStack is directly competitive with OpenStack. There is simply no comprehensible 1+1=3 combination.

I have to imagine that culture could have inflamed the situation. At the risk of fanning political winds, it's hard to ignore the air of new celebrity projected by OpenStack governance.

I suppose it's a natural reaction to overwhelmingly positive early validation to believe your own headlines and affirm your enduring place in history prematurely. Call it hubris. Call it human nature. Cloud computing may be the very definition of modern, but it is subject to the most ancient of truths.

Perhaps it's a combination of all of these things - product maturity issues, culture and a final acknowledgement that OpenStack and CloudStack live in conflict - that led to the fateful decision.

The exact motivations will probably remain shrouded in speculation, but one thing is clear: The net effect of this move should be positive for the cloud ecosystem.

Citrix will benefit from more active contribution to CloudStack, which will accelerate innovation and contain its already considerable investment in the product.

Customers will benefit from two strong horses in the race, which, through free market forces, will drive innovation and quality and exert downward pressure on commercial pricing (holla, VMware).

Customers will also benefit from diverse perspectives behind the evolution of open clouds. As a service provider, Rackspace is bound to influence OpenStack in slightly different directions than Citrix, as a software vendor. The result is bound to be a more thoughtful set of open cloud options that will drive innovation and choice.

Consider, for example, the vendor ecosystem that emerged around the OpenStack and Cloud Foundry projects. There are at least a dozen new companies or product lines formed around these projects, each contributing to choice and elevating the state of play for cloud in general. This sort of ecosystem activity is how we enable and accelerate the cloud transformations, which benefits all of us as vendors, practitioners and end users.

Another interesting possibility is the rise of specialization. It will be interesting to see how open clouds evolve to defend against commodity pressure, perhaps finding strong matches in discrete markets. For example, with its patron hailing from service provider land, OpenStack may find stronger affinity in the enterprise. Likewise, without a competitive stake of its own, perhaps Citrix can make CloudStack the stronger fit for service providers. Of course it's too early to guess exactly how this will unfold, but it's safe to bet that cloud platforms will specialize over time.

All of this is by way of saying that Citrix should be applauded for making a bold and important move with CloudStack, which is bound to elevate the state of play for cloud in general. Cynics will continue to call this a sign of desperation, but I think it's something quite different: it's a leap frog move that seeks to capture the momentum generated by OpenStack to deliver on pent-up demand for an open cloud platform that is ready for prime time. That's just sound strategy in my book and probably one of the most important defining moments in the evolution of open clouds.

So, has Citrix stacked the deck? You bet. And I believe it's a strategy that will pay off.

More Stories By Shawn Edmondson

Shawn Edmondson is Vice President of Product Strategy at rPath. He has 17 years of experience in the software industry, serving multiple roles in software engineering, engineering management, and product management primarily at start-up software companies. He joined rPath from HP Software (formerly Opsware, Inc.) where he served in several roles for the Opsware Server Automation product line, including product management for virtualization and compliance as well as engineering management for reporting and content delivery. Prior to Opsware, Shawn managed software development at Masergy, Inc., a start-up network service provider in Texas, and at TenFold Corp., an enterprise application framework start-up in San Francisco. Shawn holds a BA in Computer Science from Harvard College.

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