Today has seen the vision of an open source cloud move one step closer with the launch of the OpenStack project.

The project has the backing of over 25 leading technology companies and NASA, and is designed to foster the emergence of technology standards and cloud interoperability. The project’s key aim is to enable anyone to turn physical hardware into scalable and extensible cloud environments. OpenStack is not itself a cloud provider, rather it is a software offering that lets the end user build a cloud, either for public or private use.

An OpenStack Design Summit was held July 13-16 in Austin, where more than 100 technical advisors, developers and founding members joined to validate the code and ratify the project roadmap. Much of the code tested is written in Python, using the Tornado and Twisted frameworks.

An open cloud is essential if the long promised benefits of cloud computing are to be fully realised. The success of the cloud will be ultimately determined by the levels of choice and freedom that it offers the end user. Choice and freedom equals innovation, flexibility and usability. An open cloud will provide the tools to enable end users to build and customise their own computing clouds to suit their specific needs, budgets and timescales. And more importantly no one or entity owns it.

The internet would not be what it is today, had it not been built on open and interoperable standards. The cloud’s success will be driven by a global connected community delivering applications and media using a cloud that fosters creativity and openness. A truly open cloud will encourage tomorrow’s innovators to innovate today.

The industry does not want, or need, a digital sky dominated by proprietary clouds from a few deep pocketed large computing brands, it needs to ensure that people have a diversity of potential suppliers of cloud-based services – competition is healthy and needed.

It is a theme that Joaquín Almunia, vice president of the European Commission, strongly voiced earlier this month when he stated: “Fostering openness and preventing closed markets and unfair competition is key to the development of innovative digital media and technology in Europe. Open and interoperable environments drive down the cost of innovation.”

For the cloud to be truly ‘open’ code standardisation is a fundamental requirement, one of the key aims for OpenStack, and the reason so many founder member ‘competing’ companies have put aside their traditional rivalries, is to establish a common standard base.

It is essential that end users enjoy total interoperability, making it easier for them to connect clouds together, moving data between and off them when they choose – rather than being locked in to one providers cloud.

If end user needs to change providers, and sometimes this can be an enforced choice: a merger or acquisition or as a result of a new regulation; they need to be able to do so easily. Resources that may have been spent on difficult migrations can instead be spent on core business development.

One of the value propositions of the open cloud model is the ability to scale resources as needed. An open interface will enable end users to build out new and existing systems at speed and with agility. And if we look at perhaps the biggest perceived barrier to cloud adoption, the issue of security and data integrity, we can see that the open source model enables the end user to take advantage of a commercial partner’s scale and infrastructure, whilst tailoring the code to ensure that their valuable assets don’t leave the in house environment. The true hybrid cloud.

In essence the OpenStack project is attempting to deliver a type of co-operative cloud that enables economies of scale to build whilst returning control back to the community that built it. In theory OpenStack could extend the benefits of open source into the full computing stack and that could result in the largest single cloud ecosystem next to the Web itself. A claim too far? Only time will tell.

Finally, OpenStack should not be confused with the ‘Open Cloud Manifesto’ initiative that was heralded with much fanfare in March 2009. This saw IBM lead dozens of major tech companies in calling for open cloud standards. However the call was not heeded by all the perceived major cloud players, with rival Microsoft Corp dismissing the effort and accusing IBM of seeking to exert control of the field, whilst Inc and Google Inc, Inc were all conspicuously absent from a list of companies endorsing it.

So what’s different with OpenStack? OpenStack is attempting to build interoperability in public, not behind closed doors, and without any exclusionary practices. Such environments are not conducive to building trust and a spirit of co-operation, both of which are key ingredients of developing a successful standard.