Rackspace calls CloudStack, Eucalyptus "zombies"

Apr 14, 2012   //   by Daniel Kranowski   //   Business  //  2 comments

It’s not every day you hear a company call its competition “zombies”, but that is exactly the word that came off the fiery keyboard of Rackspace Cloud’s Director of Developer Relations, Jim Plamondon, in his comment to Mike Fratto’s column about how CloudStack and Eucalyptus seem just a bit too cozy with the Amazon AWS API. Jim’s remarks are just too awesome not to quote:

Eucalyptus and CloudStack are “zombie projects,” being used tactically by Amazon to achieve its strategic objectives — as Microsoft used similar zombie projects in the 1990′s. Any firm that uses these zombies runs the risk of infection with the zombie virus, thereby risking disaster when Amazon slaughters its zombies in a future Cloud Zombie Apocalypse.

That is just pure awesomeness. No I don’t believe it, that Kool-Aid is a bit tart, but Jim you sure do know how to liven up the discussion!

All this is in response to recent news that Citrix CloudStack and Eucalyptus, two solutions for private cloud deployment, have engineered their APIs to be compatible with Amazon APIs. The selling point is that customers can develop one cloud infrastructure and deploy with their choice of CloudStack, Eucalyptus, or Amazon; the customer won’t be locked in to just one vendor. Mike Fratto’s beef is that standards should be developed by an open committee, not the single dominant vendor. Jim Plamondon’s interestingly worded objection is that Amazon is only temporarily withholding suit against CloudStack and Eucalyptus long enough to get the world dependent on their APIs, then they’ll pull the plug.

What’s ironic to me about this fracas is the fact that Amazon’s appeal to new cloud customers has always been … their openness. You can put together an AMI for any operating system you want, like Ubuntu, Solaris, or Windows, and you can install any software packages on the AMI that you want, too. You the customer get to define your infrastructure, and Amazon will host it for you. If you don’t like using Amazon, you could go to any regular datacenter and redeploy there. Sure you would lose the elasticity of AWS, but it would not require a massive re-engineering effort to resume your operations. That gives the customer a whole lot of freedom, and to me that’s pretty open.

It’s true that the AWS APIs are proprietary to Amazon. But really the APIs are not the strongest part of the AWS offering. The strength of AWS is the idea itself, the brilliant idea that you can rent a machine for a really short period of time, spin it up with your personal machine image, and then turn it off when you don’t need it anymore. That is a winning proposition in terms of huge cost savings to customers who can no longer afford to build out a datacenter to their worst case load which might only happen a few days out of the year. And the AWS APIs are just one piece of the engineering puzzle when it comes to “going into the cloud” — you have to rethink your whole application architecture to properly take advantage of auto-scaling. If the APIs for your cloud deployment and management change, that is surely inconvenient, but no worse than, say, changing your build infrastructure from Ant to Maven.

Amazon faces a huge threat to its $1 billion of annual AWS-related revenues from the open-source cloud vendors. There are a lot of other sprawling datacenters out there with rack upon rack of blade servers, and once they get proficient with a software package that lets them provide elastic service the way Amazon does, it won’t be such an obvious choice anymore to host your cloud with Amazon. To some degree it will be an old-fashioned competition of who can host servers, storage, and bandwidth at the lowest cost, and there’s no reason to think that Amazon will always be better at that.

I don’t see Amazon Web Services keeling over quite yet, because it’s more than a one-trick pony that knows how to dynamically grow and shrink a beanstalk of servers. AWS is a big product suite with lots of features, like MapReduce, CloudFront, Flexible Payments, Mechanical Turk, and a variety of database-related services. Datacenters who discover open-source cloud will still need to pile on the extra value like this if they want to grab some of the market share that currently belongs to Amazon. On the other hand, by and large these extra services are proprietary to Amazon and as such have always been the least interesting aspect of AWS. The best part is simply the elasticity on a machine image you can build yourself.

2 Comments

  • Sounds like sour grapes at Rackspace. Tried out cloudstack on godaddy’s cloud platform and was extremely impressed. So impressed that I wished that microsoft would abandon its Azure efforts and instead promote and rush the development of hyper-v on cloudstack.

    Eventually (soon) the day will come where you can start your deployment in the cloud, and then move to a private cloud once your resource use becomes high.

    Or the opposite. Develop your app in a cheap private cloud powered by either framework, and then deploy to the cloud provider that has the best pricing. Being in the cloud is already proven to be a lot less expensive than deploying our own metal for our company. The only catch is cloud providers are still very expensive for storage costs. For what it costs to store 2b a month I could buy a 2tb drive and throw it in a server. It know its not the same, but my point is cloud storage is still overpriced for S3, and other storage methods.

    Hopefully as more major players (azure, google) get into this mix the lower the pricing will become.

    As for Rackspace, they have great support, but must because they are always the highest priced option when comparing hosting. Unfortunately for them, if they cannot keep up with pricing from major players and other hosters who will provide these cheap private clouds, they will fail. Maybe instead of shitting on two great open source platforms, rackspace should devote its time to making sure they are no longer the MOST EXPENSIVE OPTION.

    • Cloud computing has only ever been a metakring push on the part of a few companies with vast resources in order to monetize under-utilized assets. None of the items on your bullet list are technologically anything more than what you get when you have a network and computers on it. It just happens that Amazon and Google are huge and have such large networks they can profitably rent their servers out. The only new thing that’s automatically scaling on the cloud is the billing.What you get with the cloud is scalability insurance. Of course, if your business explodes, it would be far cheaper to run your own data centers after all, Google and Amazon are not operating their clouds at a loss out of the kindness of their hearts. On the other hand, if your business doesn’t explode, you’re signing up to be a victim of their obtuse billing practices which boil down to try it out and see if it’s cheaper. If you compare fully utilizing the storage and bandwidth of a VPS to what that would cost over Google or Amazon, you’ll see you’re paying a nearly 10x markup for the same resources just for the privilege of doing it on-demand rather than up-front. This is setting yourself up to be blindsided by a black-swan spike in utilization. And of course, GAE and the like have radically different proprietary interfaces that make it extremely unlikely that you would be able to pull off a port to a traditional web-host in a hurry. Seems like a very unwise business practice to wire your expenses to a sliding scale like this, especially when 98% of business models do not have the scalability problem in the first place.This is because most businesses don’t make their money by exploiting large, dense graphs. I think the marginal utility of yet another application that makes use of large, dense graphs is getting dangerously low. Notice Google and Amazon make their money on something other than writing the kinds of applications that produce scalability problems with small numbers of users or low amounts of usage. Also, notice Facebook runs their own network despite the supposed amazing scalability advances of the cloud. If it’s not economical on the low end or the high end, what makes you think it’s economical anywhere else? If this isn’t about saving money, if it were truly about technology, there would be new technology here rather than glorified server provisioning and a bunch of proprietary interfaces to it. What could the cloud possibly be about besides branding and helping a few very large companies make a little more money? Google and Amazon are, after all, quite good at recognizing business opportunities and using them. And don’t kid yourself about Rackspace or Azure. Azure is nothing more than Microsoft’s obligatory product for this niche, and Rackspace certainly is aware of which things they do to achieve buzzword compliance versus where they make their real money.This whole thing is just another sad round of the centralized vs. distributed game we’ve been playing in computer science for the last fifty years. As Keith Braithwaite observed, It’s a curious thing about our industry: not only do we not learn from our mistakes, we also don’t learn from our successes.

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