News is out today that Rackspace and 22 other organisations are collaborating to develop an open-source cloud community, focusing on creating a set of interoperable standards for cloud computing. Until now, each cloud vendor has had a relatively proprietary system, and moving between cloud providers has been problematic, if not nearly impossible.

OpenStack, as they are calling the initiative, includes the code from Rackspace’s Cloud Files service, and will include their Cloud Servers code later in the year. The initiative has a web, of course – –  and participant names include the likes of Citrix, Dell, Right Scale, AMD and Intel already. That’s an impressive set of names at launch.

What does this mean for the industry? Well, hopefully it means the emergence of a real market for cl0ud computing services, enabling businesses to build applications that run in the cloud, safe in the knowledge that they aren’t completely dependent on just one vendor. Cloud computing has been growing for a number of years now (the first blog post here on “Living in the Cloud – Computing” was back in July of 2008), and I’ve argued for the importance of standards in cloud computing since the start. Today’s announcement potentially ushers in the next phase of maturity for the technology. If nothing else, it is a very important first step in enabling the multitude of technology providers to work together. I’ll be watching with a keen interest.

If you have, or are developing, applications for your business that require computing power that can stretch and flex with highly variable demands, it is a must-deploy technology. Cloud computing isn’t for everything – I see more ‘standard’ Internet hosting being around for a long while yet – but there are places where the transaction-based costs of cloud computing make much more sense. Hopefully the OpenStack initiative will mean that developers only have to write their applications once to deploy them across a number a different clouds. That also potentially means more robust, independent infrastructures, reducing the number of big single-provider outages we’ve seen in recent years from the likes of Amazon.

Update: Here’s a statement from the blog describing the initiative’s commitments:

  • COMMITMENT #1: We are producing truly open source software. No artificial limits will be placed or performance limitations maintained. No licensing model – one free, one paid – will be introduced. We are releasing the code under the Apache 2.0 license which allows the community to do with the software as they see fit, including implement into other distributions or “for fee” offerings.
  • COMMITMENT #2: We are committed to an open design process. Rackspace will provide dedicated project leads to guide the roadmap on behalf of the community. We will hold regular design summits—open to anyone—which will produce a roadmap to guide development.
  • COMMITMENT #3: All development will be done in the open. We will maintain a publicly available source code repository to simplify participation.
  • COMMITMENT #4: We will maintain an open community. Healthy, vibrant developer and user communities are the basis of any open source project. Most decisions will be made using a “lazy consensus” model. All processes will be documented, open and transparent.