The Nebula appliance announced today jumps right into this space and provides a standardized hardware configuration for OpenStack implementations. It offers scaled-out compute power based on commoditized x86 CPUs and standardizes a configuration of switches and other components to glue a large number of these CPUs together. The new VC-backed startup will thus compete head to head with EMC’s Vblock and Microsoft’s Azure appliance; neither of these are based on open source, and the latter isn’t really on the market yet.
But Nebula is more than just a hardware deliverable. Its mission is to transparently standardize the cloud hardware stack. Basically, it’s nothing more than the complex specification Microsoft worked out with its hardware partners (Dell, Fujitsu, and HP) to deliver the Azure appliance to local cloud providers and large-scale private clouds. However, Nebula’s openness is the differentiator; it reminds me a bit of IBM’s approach around the original personal computer back in the 1970s. Sure, it enabled hardware competitors to produce compatible PCs — but it also brought mass adoption of the PC, outperforming Apple over four decades.
If Nebula delivers a compelling price point, it has an appealing approach that could gain significant share in the growing cloud hardware market. If the new company aims to spur a revolution similar to that of the PC, its founders need to tweak their strategy soon:
· Cloud goes beyond infrastructure — build an ecosystem of applications.Risk-averse enterprise customers are reluctant to build a private cloud. If new hardware vendors want to succeed in mission-critical enterprise environments when competing against IBM and the like, they must partner with certified packaged enterprise applications like SAP to create credibility. The rise of in-memory databases may create additional opportunities here.
· Approach Europe first for private clouds.While the privacy debate in the US is slowly heating up, the European Union is deploying private clouds even faster than the US because of high-level privacy regulations. A standardized private cloud hardware stack will resonate there.
· Continue to innovate Openstack’s capabilities.The PC would not have been successful for more than a decade with its initial character-based UI. Future cloud stacks will need not only technical capabilities, such as policy-based cloud bursting; soon, they will also need to support emerging business models, such as a full cloud broker model.
· App stores need to meet cloud infrastructure.OpenStack needs to embrace some platform-as-a-service (PaaS) capabilities, such as a federated app store concept, to fuel the cloud with an ongoing stream of new business apps that go beyond infrastructure consolidation for legacy workloads. Today’s app store concepts, such as salesforce.com’s AppExchange, aren’t federated and fail to deliver value to local cloud providers or private clouds. An app store concept, including standardized deployment into a client’s tenant on an OpenStack instance, will drive further demand for Nebula and its future OpenStack-based competitors.
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