My own letter to OpenStack management

+Randy Bias of +Cloudscaling started quite some stir in the cloud community when he wrote a note to +OpenStack's management saying it should work on building in API compatibility with Amazon's Web Service stack (OpenStack is an open source foundation and code base that powers tons of cloud infrastructure used by CERN, Comcast, Rackspace, and many others).

You can read Randy's note, and the discussion it caused over on Techcrunch: http://techcrunch.com/2013/07/24/an-open-letter-to-embrace-aws-and-what-it-says-about-openstacks-self-serving-vendors/

Lately I've been meeting with a raft of Amazon customers, from Flipboard to SmugMug to Box to others. Heck, a good percentage of the hundreds of interviews I've done over the past four years are with Amazon customers. If you don't know, I work for +Rackspace in a unique role: I build relationships with startups and get to know why they make the technology choices they do (I bring people onto my show that are often hosting on our competitors, whether Amazon, Google, Microsoft because that's the way Rackspace will keep up its competitive edge and not get complacent about the innovation happening elsewhere). 

Not a single startup has told me that they won't go with OpenStack because of API compatibility issues. Rather they say they don't see an innovation alternative yet to Amazon (although increasingly they are paying attention to OpenStack BECAUSE OpenStack has gotten momentum as an innovation competitor). 

Which is why I am writing this letter to OpenStack's management.

If you think Cloud innovation is finished, or that only Amazon can innovate (IE, do new things for new markets) then by all means you should drop everything and make OpenStack 100% compatible with Amazon's APIs. 

But, if you believe, like I do, that we're entering into a new age that demands new technologies (thanks to wearable computing, sensors, and new business demands to personalize service and build new collaborative enterprises -- thanks +Jeremiah Owyang for doing such good work detailing why that's important) then you must dismiss Randy Bias' advice and get back to work on building the future.

This all got very clear to me when I was talking with +MindTouch's cofounder and CEO +Aaron Fulkerson. I've copied that interview here. He's built a system that lets companies radically improve their customer service. It's built on top of Amazon. It's funny to recommend you use a service that is built on our competition, but that's how I roll -- I want you to use the best service, even if it doesn't serve me or my employer well.

After the cameras were off we talked about the infrastructure choices that Mindtouch has made. He told me that nearly none of the technologies underneath Mindtouch existed five years ago. Things like +MongoDB

He told me he doesn't see innovation slowing down at all and he's always looking for a better way to do things. If a new cloud technology came along that let him analyze database entries 10x faster, for instance, he'd immediately consider it. +Don MacAskill, just last week, told me the same thing and told me he wishes that OpenStack would do things Amazon isn't able to do. Later today SmugMug is turning on a two-year redesign and he's bet his business 100% on the cloud and is looking to set a course for SmugMug's next few years and is evaluating what cloud providers are the most innovative. For him it isn't about API compatibility. That won't get him to switch his business over to OpenStack. He would consider moving, though, if OpenStack brought something to the table that Amazon couldn't match (he's very happy to talk with strategists at OpenStack to explain what his business needs in the next year or two).

For both Aaron and Don, moving their entire businesses from one cloud provider to another wouldn't be made just to save a few pennies per gigabyte or because there was API compatibility or even to get better customer support, like what Rackspace offers. The reason they'd move is if there was a 10x improvement to their own business.

That's the challenge to OpenStack at this point.

There are hundreds of companies working together on OpenStack. Including my employer, who has put tens of millions of dollars of investment (since we gifted a large part of the first code base to this open source effort and have since dedicated many employee hours to this). But even with hundreds of companies working together and this investment in code, R&D, and money OpenStack has limited resources.

It's clear we have two philosophies that are conflicting here. One wants those limited resources to be spent on making APIs compatible with Amazon. One wants those limited resources to be spent on making new cloud systems that will have a 10x return for people like Aaron and Don.

If you believe cloud innovation is slowing down, you should listen to Randy Bias because there will be huge value in providing an API alternative, not an innovation alternative, if that is the case.

If you believe, like I do, that we are going to see more change in cloud infrastructure in the next five years than in the past 10, then keep investing in real innovation and keep pushing to bring the contextual age to the world (which will need 10x or even 100x the capabilities of today's clouds -- think about what Toyota will need if self-driving cars become commonplace. The Google self-driving car generates 700 megabytes PER SECOND of data. No cloud today could deal with that level of data throughput, even if you filter it first in the cloud. Heck, lets not get that esoteric. What happens if Nike FuelBand adds three more sensors and sells 100 million units?).

All of the businesses I've talked to want to see an innovation alternative to Amazon. OpenStack is set up to be that innovation alternative, but spending your limited resources on just copying Amazon is NOT what they are asking for and I believe would derail OpenStack's momentum (which is very real, just look at the last design summit which had thousands of attendees, or look at the wins, whether at CERN, Comcast, or other places).

But, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the next five years won't see a surge in new sensors. Maybe the next five years won't see new wearable computing devices take off. Maybe the next five years won't see demands for new contextual systems. Maybe the next five years won't see demands on businesses to get more data on their customers. 

I'm pretty sure I'm not wrong, because I've met with enough startups to see a new wave of innovation is demanded.

Thanks for listening.

To everyone else, do you have advice for OpenStack's management?

Do you agree or disagree with my conclusions? 

UPDATE: Randy claims I misrepresented him by making him sound anti innovation. I'm sorry about that but you are asking OpenStack to do work that takes engineers away from innovation to do reverse engineering and API compatibility development and testing work.
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