What CloudStack really is and why it matters to you


If you’re looking for a new open-source cloud and you search for CloudStack on Google’s first page, you’ll find CloudStack compared to OpenStack. It should not be compared to OpenStack! Yes, both started as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) clouds, but they quickly took very different paths.

Today, OpenStack is a complex ecosystem of IaaS cloud services and spin-off programs such as the well-regarded continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) program Zuul. To really get your hands around OpenStack, you need considerable expertise with its software.

Apache CloudStack, however, remained true to its roots. It’s a straight-forward IaaS that can run on a variety of hypervisors. These include: KVM, Hyper-V, XenServer, and vSphere. In other words, you can pretty much have it up and running on the platform of your choice in hours. OpenStack? I like it a lot, but let’s be real. You’re talking weeks.

You can see where I’m going already. If you need a full, do-anything and has-everything-and-the-kitchen-sink cloud, you want OpenStack. If you have more modest goals, and resources, consider CloudStack.

CloudStack has a friendly Web-based management user interface. It also has a simple application programming interface (API). If you need it, CloudStack also has an Amazon S3/EC2 compatible API.  Under the hood, it’s written in Java. As you’d expect, it’s licensed under the open-source Apache 2.0 license.

While I was at ApacheCon in Montreal in September, I spoke with Giles Sirett, CEO and founder of ShapeBlue, a London-based company that specializes in CloudStack. Sirett told me that CloudStack is often incorrectly perceived as being in a two-horse race, with a winner and loser, with OpenStack. It’s not.

“CloudStack,” Sirett continued, “has a much simpler focus. It enables you to run IaaS clouds easily. CloudStack is simple, productive software. It’s not going to set the world on fire. It just works.”

Unlike OpenStack, with its huge numbers of corporate supporters and developers, CloudStack has a much smaller community of about 300 committers.

A small codebase and relatively few developers doesn’t mean it can’t give you big results. Billions of dollars of business runs on it. Many second-tier public cloud providers, such as British Telecom, Japan’s KDDI and the EU’s Interoute, run on CloudStack.

CloudStack is not just used for public clouds. Many corporate private clouds rely on it as well. For example, Ticketmaster told ApacheCon that it is moving its entire e-ticket software stack to CloudStack. It’s also an open secret in CloudStack circles that the “world’s biggest company named after a fruit” relies on CloudStack for its internal clouds. Apple, as usual, had no comment.

So, if it’s so good, why haven’t you heard of it? Sirett explained that the Apache Foundation, while great at supporting software development, doesn’t do much for marketing. So, it’s quite possible that until you saw this article, you may never even have heard of CloudStack.

That’s a shame. As Sirett said, “IaaS is old news. The hype has moved on.” That may actually play to CloudStack’s advantage. “Now that people are making pure technology decisions rather than decisions on hype, CloudStack can get considered. If we get to a technical demo, nine times out of ten we’d win the contract.”

Is he right? You can judge for yourself. Trying out CloudStack is simple. Just follow the guidelines for a small-scale CloudStack deployment on an idle afternoon and you’ll be up and running.

Personally, having worked with pretty much every cloud software stack that’s out there, I think CloudStack is ideal for small cloud service providers and small-to-medium businesses. It’s also a good fit for internal enterprise private clouds.

Sure, other clouds can do more. But if all you want is a meat-and-potatoes IaaS cloud, you really should try CloudStack.

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