Cloud Wars: Rackspace Seizes OpenStack, Is Dell Next?

In perhaps their boldest acquisition to date, Rackspace has purchased Anso Labs and are now firmly in control of OpenStack.  Anso Labs is the brains behind Nova, a key component of OpenStack that was originally built for NASA’s Nebula private cloud platform; NASA eventually contributed Nova to the OpenStack project.  Rackspace now controls 3 out of the 4 board seats for OpenStack, virtually owns 2 key software pieces the OpenStack code, and has cornered the market on OpenStack brainpower.

It’s no secret that OpenStack is a blazing hot open source project, but what is Rackspace’s true motive for this acquisition?  Some have speculated that Rackspace could move OpenStack toward an “open core” strategy, opening the door for a paid commercial version of the software.  However, that would be contrary to Rackspace’s DNA and is highly unlikely yet not out of the question.

What’s more likely, is Rackspace’s growing reliance on OpenStack represented too high of a risk for a company that has its eyes set on dominating Cloud computing.  I have always contended that Open Source is a development strategy not a business model.  Therefore, Rackspace’s business model was at risk because their open source development strategy hinged on the talents of Anso Labs.

Additionally, Anso Labs brings Rackspace new Cloud services capabilities in the areas of consulting, training, support, integration, and customization of both OpenStack and Nova. Imagine Rackspace offering their customers the ability to build their own private clouds while augmenting them with their public and/or hybrid cloud offerings.  In essence, OpenStack to Rackspace becomes Eucalyptus to Amazon.

Where there is brilliance in this acquisition there are also risks.  Will the team at Anso Labs accept their new owner’s vision and/or plans? What happens to OpenStack’s growing community of participants and contributors?  Will the bright lights of the free spirits of Anso Labs be extinguished by the weight of a public company?

Finally, an unintended consequence of seizing control of OpenStack may be making Rackspace a M&A target themselves.  While Lanham Napier, Rackspace’s CEO said, “We have not built our company to sell it” the market may think otherwise.  If JMP Securities analyst Patrick Walravens’ observation that investor’s main issue with Rackspace is “the capital-intensive nature of their business…capex guidance is up 41% from a year ago…” then an acquisition by an infrastructure provider may make perfect sense.  Is Dell Next?

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