VMware (NYSE: VMW) is taking some heat because the virtualization company's forthcoming public cloud will not be based on OpenStack, the open source platform. Some critics worry VMware's approach will lead to an expensive, closed platform. But let's do a reality check, folks: Take a look at many of the major public clouds -- AmazonGoogle Compute EngineMicrosoft Windows Azure -- and there's nary a mention of OpenStack. Even Oracle now has built a $1 billion cloud business without thinking much about OpenStack. So what's the message for channel partners?

Alas, the cloud wars are a bit like the old Linux vs. Windows or Unix vs. Mainframe wars.

  • Multiple Linux distributions emerged and many were successful. But Windows Server sales continue to grow.
  • Multiple Unix distributions emerged but compatibility issues also surfaced, and the mainframe continues to enjoy its enterprise niche -- even today.

So what does all this have to do with the cloud? For channel partners the answer is clear:

1. Don't get locked in the technology religious wars.

2. Do take a close look at OpenStack-based clouds, such as those from Rackspace, Dell, HP and IBM. Try to determine if you can really build OpenStack private clouds that are compatible with those public cloud options. In theory, using OpenStack in both a private and public cloud setting means you can move workloads more easily between the two environments. But in practice is that true? Decide and test the thesis for yourself using one customer application that you'd like to run both on premises or in the cloud.

And while you're looking at open source approaches, check out CloudStackEucalyptus (for private clouds) and OpenNebula.

3. Do take a look at the so-called proprietary clouds, such as Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Engine, Microsoft Windows Azure and the forthcoming VMware Hybrid Cloud model. And don't forget: There are more than 8,500 VMware vCloud Service Providers -- many of which offer public cloud services right now.

If those vendor-centric clouds are so bad, how has Amazon managed to cut its cloud prices more than two dozen times? And why does that business continue to grow so darn quickly?

Long Road Ahead

It's still really early in the cloud game. Amazon could get arrogant. Customers could start to feel "locked in" to those vendor-centric clouds. On the flip side, OpenStack is immature and needs more certified professionals.

Either way: Keep an open mind, regardless of whether you lean toward an open source or closed source partner.