VMware is not necessarily known as a company that thoroughly embraces open source, but one of its top CTOs says OpenStack could play an important role as a standard in the cloud computing market.

The pronouncement reflects VMware's efforts to support non VMware-workloads in its management products, something that may have seemed far out just a few years ago.

Chris Wolf, CTO of Americas for VMware - and a former Gartner research vice president - predicts that OpenStack will not be a pervasive standard cloud management software. But, he says in a world of cloud offerings from multiple vendors, OpenStack has an opportunity to be a standard that various cloud management platforms can integrate with. To that end, Wolf says VMware is committed to supporting OpenStack workloads, with the goal of having customers run and manage OpenStack clouds using VMware's automation software.

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As OpenStack has matured, Wolf says there are starting to be specific use cases where applications run best in an OpenStack-type cloud. If customers want to pursue that option, then VMware wants to be able to manage those workloads.

One example is devops, he says. When developers write code for new applications, if they write the applications to be compatible with OpenStack APIs, then theoretically those applications will be able to run on any platform that supports OpenStack APIs. This could allow operations teams to run applications on a variety of platforms, including VMware.  "(OpenStack) is going to be important for providing some interoperability between platforms," says Wolf.

This point of view is interesting because some consider OpenStack a competitor to VMware. "Our competitors try to leverage it that way," Wolf says. Fundamentally, OpenStack is an open source project for building public or private clouds. VMware management tools offer similar functionality. But, VMware wants to be a platform for managing OpenStack clouds.

But Wolf said he doesn't expect OpenStack clouds to push out VMware. "We see it as a complementary technology, not as a replacement," Wolf told Network World. There will be a place for an open source cloud management platform, but he says that proprietary platforms from companies like VMware are still necessary in the industry. "It's hard to expect any open standard to lead the industry." Proprietary solutions are more nimble, agile and creative in how they innovate on top of their code without having to get a whole community around advancements.

Some companies balk at VMware's attempts to control the open source cloud world. "People have seen VMware in the Microsoft model and they won't want to get caught in that again," says Paul Cormier, Red Hat's president of products. He argues that companies with experience in turning open source projects into enterprise-ready products are the best to work with in this newfound era.

OpenStack, despite being a 4-year old project, is still in the relatively early days. Its impact thus far seems to mostly be on service providers like Rackspace, HP and others who are using the open source code to build public clouds. But, the project is continuing to mature and many companies, like Red Hat and others, are looking to sell software for companies to build private clouds themselves using OpenStack. It's unclear exactly how the project will develop and how many end users will sign on to use OpenStack and for what purposes. In some scenarios OpenStack could be a major threat for VMware, in others it could be a complementary technology.

Senior Writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing for Network World and NetworkWorld.com. He can be reached at [email protected] and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW. Read his Cloud Chronicles here.