June 2, 2014

The Battle of the OpenStack Distros Begins (Bring Popcorn)

Bryan-Lunduke

I love watching Linux distributions battle it out for desktop supremacy.

I find it exciting. And since you are, in all likelihood, reading this on a website called “Linux.com,” my guess is you feel the same way.

One of the things that makes watching that battle so gloriously engaging is that each Linux distro, no matter how unique and special it may be, is made up of 99% of the same stuff – the same code – as all of the other distros.

How crazy is that? Fedora and Debian. Arch and openSUSE. All built from (mostly) the same, pre-built, pieces and parts. Pieces and parts that many of these competing distros contribute to – and collaborate on – in a way that directly benefits even their arch-nemeses. And, yet, each is a unique and interesting beast.

[Incredibly important side note: The plural of “Nemesis,” according to Mr. Webster, is “Nemeses.” It is not, apparently, “Nemesises.” Nor is it “Nemesi.” I want it to be “Nemesi.” “Nemesi” sounds cooler. If anyone knows Mr. Webster, tell him to fix that.]

This war has been raging on for years now. Decades. And we are no closer to crowning a victor than we were in the summer of 1991.

And now, many of the same players that we have watched in the struggle for Linux desktop supremacy have set their sights on creating the dominant distro for a new system. A different system – focused not on desktop PCs or mobile devices. Nay. This time they are focused on “The Cloud.” And they've all chosen OpenStack as the base for their new “cloud distros.”

Just as with the Linux desktop distro war, each OpenStack distro is based on 99% the same guts. And, likewise, it is that 1% difference that makes each distro so unique and interesting...

In the beginning

Let's take a quick, little side trip here. Back to the beginning of OpenStack. Just where, exactly, did this collection of Cloud-y software come from?

Space. Well, NASA at any rate. Back in 2008, NASA started the Nebula project. Which, as you might have guessed, is an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) system that provides scalable computing and storage resources. I know. That's enough buzz words to kill an elephant. But this really is a good way of describing what it does.

Then, in 2010, NASA and Rackspace started working together on OpenStack – which was initially based, at least in part, on NASA's Nebula. Things worked well, and in 2012 the OpenStack Foundation was born. All of which is a long way of saying “OpenStack comes from outer space... kinda....”

The "Big Three" distros

Which brings us to the present. Earlier this month was the OpenStack Summit. And that summit drew over 4,500 attendees to the great city of Atlanta – handily crushing any doubt that OpenStack is here to stay. Which the major players in the desktop Linux space all seem to agree on.

SUSE, Red Hat and Canonical. These “Big Three” of the Linux desktop (and server) world are here (among many others) in a big way. But each is taking their own, unique approach to OpenStack.

Red Hat, for example, is getting pretty aggressive with its own OpenStack distro – the aptly named “Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack.” Red Hat has seemingly taken the stance that they will not support Red Hat Enterprise Linux instances that are run under OpenStack ... if that version of OpenStack is provided by someone other than Red Hat. After this news broke, and some Open Source-loving corners of the Internet erupted in anger, Red Hat denied it ... but some (such as Canonical's Mark Shuttleworth) were not convinced.

It's like watching an incredibly nerdy soap opera. And, I'm not going to lie, I can't stop watching ... as I chow down on this rather large bucket of popcorn.

Canonical is making waves in a different way: They made a big, orange box. A sort of “Cloud-in-a-Box” system with 10 nodes running OpenStack. Canonical has pitched this orange box as a way to demo OpenStack and set up a trial system.

SUSE, whose own Alan Clark is the chairman of the board for OpenStack, has taken the “no lock in” route with the SUSE OpenStack distro, dubbed “SUSE Cloud.” Providing support for as many hypervisors as possible – including Microsoft's Hyper-V and VMware.

Bring popcorn

Despite these different approaches, features and tactics ... all three of these companies are building their cloud offerings around a central core of the same code – and contributing a huge amount of code to those core OpenStack projects. Thus directly benefiting their own competitors. (Okay, of those three, most of the code is contributed by Red Hat and SUSE, with both having provided hundreds of check-ins worth of code to the current version ... compared to Canonical's ... 3 check-ins. But, still, three is more than zero!)

And these aren't the only big players involved. HP, IBM, VMware, Intel, Comcast, Wikimedia and many others are involved and contributing.

All of which means 2 things:

1) With so many companies investing in OpenStack, we can expect to see some pretty awesome progress over the coming months and years.

2) I'm going to need a lot of popcorn.