CloudStack: Citrix's open source service cloud comes of age

What is Citrix doing with CloudStack - is it the odd one out in the cloud platforms? What advantages does it offer?

The dramatic rise of cloud computing services spread over an assortment of public/public and hybrid deployment models across a variety of application types was always liable to sew confusion.

It should be no surprise then that this diverse ecosystem has spawned a collection of standards, platforms, special interest groups and operational methodologies. Put simply, we need some white lines and crash barriers to guide us down the cloud computing superhighway - and we also need a map.

For this reason, we have seen projects such as OpenStack develop. This cloud operating system is designed to control pools of processing, storage and networking resources carried out inside any given datacenter. OpenStack is managed through an admin dashboard so that cloud volumes can be provisioned and managed and monitored "holistically" (as they say). But OpenStack has been discussed at length, so now we turn our attention to CloudStack.

Cloudstack evolution
CloudStack was originally developed by and was subsequently transferred to Citrix during a July 2011 acquisition. Until April 2012 Citrix ran with a dual strategy combining its Project Olympus OpenStack distribution, but this has now ceased to be. In May 2012, Citrix said that it would now take its modestly named CloudPlatform offering forward as the first commercial Apache CloudStack-based distribution.

CloudStack software itself is essentially a highly scalable Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) platform designed to help deploy and manage large networks of virtual machines. Through various releases of code to both the GNU and GPLv3 licences, CloudStack has evolved to become an open source thoroughbred and is now used in all three ‘usual suspects’ of the cloud deployment universe i.e. public, private and/or as part of a hybrid cloud solution.

(Note: One proviso here if we do describe CloudStack as an open source thoroughbred; it exists under the auspices of the Apache Software Foundation and is currently ranked as an "incubating" project, so it does not yet command full Apache project status as such.)

Turnkey networked IaaS, in a box
CloudStack comes with what is effectively the full set of IaaS toolbox mechanics to get a cloud infrastructure laid down. The CloudStack ‘Quick Start Guide’ (if it indeed were a new DVD player) features network service controls, compute orchestration functionality (this is close to ‘DevOps’ and Application Lifecycle Management), a complete native API offering and other core essentials including account management tools and a not unpleasant user interface.

There's still a bit of misunderstanding as to where CloudStack works well, what is still in a state of flux and why its core competencies should be of interest. Citrix's cloud computing and open source ‘catalyst’ (that means expert) Mark Hinkle says that CloudStack excels in numerous areas. "[But] probably the most noticeable is the self-service portal and UI so that you can delegate the creation of infrastructure to others either in the enterprise or as a service provider. The ability to create service offerings and bundle them with networking services is an important feature. Here's a complete list of features though."

Did you get that? CloudStack is a "turnkey networked infrastructure bundling toolkit for elastic clouds" then. Well, that’s not exactly how it is being positioned, but it’s an interesting enough definition to ruminate on as we try to find its true level. Apache itself prefers to say that CloudStack enables, "A utility computing service allowing service providers to offer self-service virtual machine instances, storage volumes and networking configurations over the Internet."

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