An under-pressure OpenStack gets support from an (in)famous individual

The strangest of bedfellows. Edward Snowden gives OpenStack some much needed support.

Last week saw a few thousand devoted OpenStack community members flock to Boston to take part in the bi-annual OpenStack Summit. This summit marks a major turning point for the initiative. Since we all congregated in Barcelona last year, there have been some major pieces of news which have rocked the community. Only a couple of weeks before the event, Intel pulled out of a partnership with Rackspace to build an OpenStack-based test facility, and OpenStack poster boy Mirantis pivoted from a pure OpenStack strategy to one covering a number of open source initiatives.

Indeed, it was an eye opener to walk around the OpenStack expo hall for the brief time I was in Boston — past summits have seen huge expo stands from big names such as HPE, IBM, Cisco and EMC. This year, while the expo hall had lots of companies there, they were predominantly small bit players.

And while the OpenStack Foundation was proud of its new sponsors, it should be noted that the days of the mega-vendors coming on board and sponsoring the foundation (which has, it must be added, a not insignificant budget) would seem to be over. While these new logos look good on a slide deck, I’m not sure how well they fill the coffers.

And so, the foundation really did need some awesome wins to crow about. And while good, chunky commercial success stories are few and far between, and they did gain some accolades from an unexpected quarter. Edward Snowden, the NSA whistle-blower, made a live appearance via satellite link from his exile in Russia. In his interview with OpenStack Foundation stalwart Mark Collier, Snowden warned those watching about the risks of the for-profit cloud computing vendors — in particular the big three: Amazon, Microsoft and Google. According to Snowden, people should not mindlessly use technology as these commercial companies tend not to offer their customers control or visibility over their data.

“You’re giving them your data and giving up control,” he opined. He further waxed poetic suggesting that, “If you run on Google’s or Amazon’s technology, how do you know when it starts spying on you? You have no awareness because it happens at a hidden layer of the software.”

In what must have been music to the OpenStack Foundation’s board and management, Snowden suggested that the use of open source technologies, of which OpenStack is, of course, one, may be a better option for users than investing in technology they don’t own, influence, control or even shape.

Of course, the open source community has a tendency to have a higher-than-usual proportion of proponents of this “they’re out to get us” mentality, and Snowden’s message was understandably well-received.

MyPOV

Very few individuals or organizations make technology choices simply because of the conceptual risk of outside interference or oversight. While the Snowden revelations did have lots of people hand-wringing and suggesting we should all leave the big vendors en masse, the reality is that this hasn’t occurred to any real degree. Of course there are other reasons to avoid these vendors — for those in heavily regulated industries or with data location requirements that they can’t meet, for example. But this is more of a needs-must situation rather than one of principle.

Witness the less than stellar success OpenStack has generated and contrast it to the incredible growth of Amazon, Microsoft and Google and their cloud platform — that in itself is a good indication of what is really important to people. So while Snowden’s comments were well received by attendees, they’re unlikely to make a real difference from an adoption perspective.

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