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With a list of powerful backers on board, Pivotal said Monday it would relinquish control of Cloud Foundry, the open source Platform-as-a-Service development project to a soon-to-be-formed foundation.


The foundation's “platinum” members will be IBM, HP, Rackspace, SAP, VMware and EMC, which spun Pivotal out last year and still own most of the company. Its “gold” members are development tool maker ActiveState and CenturyLink Technology Group, the data center and cloud services company formerly known as Savvis.


Now that the open source project is not overseen by one company, it becomes much more attractive for others to get involved. Rackspace made a similar move in 2012 when it cut the umbilical cord of OpenStack, an open source cloud infrastructure software project it was involved in starting and had been overseeing. OpenStack has now grown into the most popular open source cloud technology.


Cloud Foundry now has a chance to become a force in PaaS similar to the force OpenStack became in the Infrastructure-as-a-Service space. Not only does it have an A-list of enterprise technology companies backing it, some of them have already built PaaS offerings based on it.


IBM announced a PaaS offering called BlueMix at its Pulse event in Las Vegas Monday, and Pivotal has had a Cloud Foundry-based PaaS offering for some time now.


Just like OpenStack faced competition from both open source solutions (CloudStack) and massive service providers with proprietary cloud technologies (Amazon Web Services and Google Compute Engine) in the IaaS space, Cloud Foundry is up against Red Hat's open source PaaS called OpenShift and a multitude of proprietary options from giants like Amazon, Google and Microsoft.


While Cloud Foundry is a relatively young project, however, Pivotal is backed by companies that cannot be described as anything other than giants (EMC, VMware and GE, which owns at 10% stake). And companies of similar stature are throwing their weight behind the new foundation.


With that kind of support come massive development resources and even more massive sales channels. Of course, besides big names on the foundation's roster, there is also a forward-looking technological vision.


What's in it for Rackspace?

John Igoe, VP of private cloud at Rackspace, said the San Antonio, Texas-based IaaS and data center services company was interested in Cloud Foundry because of “the idea that a single PaaS capability was required across cloud environments.” The open source PaaS did not have this multi-cloud capability yet, but it was part of the vision, he said.


While Rackspace has participated in Cloud Foundry before, it was more of a passive contributor. Today's announcement is a “big change in our posture,” Igoe said. “It's a public statement that we support the direction that's being outlined by Pivotal and IBM, as well as the other members.”


Igoe also believes Cloud Foundry will benefit greatly from the skills and experience Rackspace has gained with OpenStack, growing an open source project into a powerful force in an industry.


Another reason Rackspace has joined is obviously making sure Cloud Foundry jells with OpenStack, which underpins the company's entire portfolio of cloud services. As Igoe put it, Rackspace has OpenStack experts on payroll and wants to make sure its customers have the option of using Cloud Foundry.


CenturyLink's services already run on Cloud Foundry

Unlike Rackspace, CenturyLink does not have to make sure its products are compatible with Cloud Foundry. Two companies it bought last year (AppFog and Tier 3) already have PaaS offerings built on the platform.


The AppFog acquisition was CenturyLink's (then still branded as Savvis) entry into the PaaS market. Tier 3 was essentially an IaaS company, but it also had a Cloud Foundry-based PaaS offering and had developed Iron Foundry, an open source technology that enables Cloud Foundry to support .NET, a software development framework by Microsoft.


Jonathan King, VP of cloud strategy and business development at CenturyLink, said Cloud Foundry development will be on the list of projects for the company's recently formed development center in Seattle, Washington, which is focused on open source technologies. Joining the foundation “will just let us ramp up our involvement with Cloud Foundry,” he said.


Open source participation is a requirement at SAP

Another company that has been involved in the open source PaaS project and is now planning to take a steering role is the enterprise software giant SAP. In December, SAP contributed a “service broker” for its data analytics platform called Hana to the open source project. The service broker allows developers building applications on Cloud Foundry to incorporate Hana capabilities.


Thomas Grassl, head of developer relations at SAP, said for the German software giant, joining the foundation was about making sure it had a voice in future development of Cloud Foundry. “We can, as a peer, really influence the direction of what Cloud Foundry does,” he said.


SAP also has a strategic requirement to be involved in open source projects, and participation in Cloud Foundry fits that requirement well, Grassl said.