The Rackspace Cloud has announced several moves to make its platform more attractive to open source developers and customers wary of being locked into proprietary cloud platforms. Rackspace has open sourced the application programming interfaces (APIs) for its Cloud Servers and Cloud Files services under a Creative Commons license. Today it has also made langage bindings for Cloud Files available under the MIT license, and posted technical guidelines for language bindings for Cloud Servers to the GitHub social coding service. The announced last night at the OSCON conference in San Jose, Calif.
These initiatives will make it easier for developers to create apps that can run on different programming languages on the Cloud Servers compute service and Cloud Files storage service, and make it easier for customers to migrate their Rackspace-hosted apps elsewhere.
Differentiating Through Openness
It also differentiates Rackspace (RAX) from larger cloud offerings from Amazon, Microsoft and Google that have not yet participated in efforts towards open clouds that would allow customers to easily move apps between cloud services.
"Our goal with all of this is to make the Rackspace Cloud really easy to use," said Erik Carlin, Senior Architect at Rackspace. "The power of the API is is it's ability to allow developers to build powerful stuff on top of the platform."
An API is a set of guidelines that provide developers with the information needed to write applications atop an operating system or service. Language bindings are wrapper libraries that bridge between two programming languages so that a library written for one language can be used in another language.
“It builds confidence among developers to know they can 'see' how the APIs function at a programmatic level," said Rich Wolski, Chief Technology Officer of Eucalyptus Systems Inc. "Moreover, by providing their API tools as open source, Rackspace is assuming a leadership position in helping to achieve cloud interoperability."
"It's great to see Rackspace push the movement forward by getting more code into the hands of the community" said Alex Polvi, CEO of Cloudkick, a leading cloud management platform developer. "We are thrilled to see the company moving so quickly and proactively to promote an open cloud."
"We believe in open clouds and federation," said Carlin. "We looked to see if there was an open source cloud API, and there really wasn't one."
Open Cloud Fragmentation?
Not a widely adopted one, at least. Cloud APIs abound, and there have been several efforts to organize a common framework, most notably the Open Cloud Manifesto. "I think there's a lot of fragmented efforts around cloud standardization," said Carlin. "There are quite a few efforts underway. I think it's going to take some time to come together."
Providers sometimes advance open source models with an eye towards positioning their technology as the hub for a larger ecosystem. There are plenty of dueling business models in the cloud, but Carlin said the challenges of establishing an open cloud API standard run deeper than competition.
"There are technical problems as well," he said. "There are many things that differ between clouds, and to represent all that in an API is non-trivial. Innovation is happening very quickly, and you're trying to overlay a taxonomy on it. APIs are only half the battle. You also have different virtual disk formats as well.
"I don't know how standardization and openness will develop, but we'll be involved in those discussions and embrace where the community takes things," said Carlin. "Rackspace has never believed in lock-in. We have contracts, but we think think you should be with us because you want to be with us. I think the more open the cloud is, the more you speed adoption."