Intel Explains Open Source, OpenStack Commitments

Intel took some time out to explain why it is a leading contributor to Linux as well as many other important open-source efforts, including the OpenStack cloud effort.

In a keynote presentation 18 September at the LinuxCon conference in New Orleans, Dirk Hohndel, chief Linux and open-source technologist at Intel, detailed why open source is important to Intel for development and for the cloud.

Invisible Linux

The theme for Hohndel’s keynote was all about new frontiers for Linux. He began by telling the capacity audience that for most of the general population, Linux is invisible and they don’t know what it is. That said, he noted that all you have to do is tell people that if they’re using Google, Facebook or Twitter, then they’re using Linux. All of those major Web properties are powered by Linux infrastructure.

The desktop is another area that is a new frontier for Linux, even though Hohndel jokingly remarked he’s been saying it has been the year of the Linux desktop for some time. He pointed to the recent success of Google’s Chromebooks – Linux-powered devices that use the Chrome browser as their key method of accessing applications – as an avenue for the Linux desktop. Intel recently announced a push to get hardware vendors to use its Haswell chips inside Chromebooks.

The cloud is another key frontier for Intel and for open source. Intel is a member of the OpenStack Foundation and is also key consumer of the technology. OpenStack got its start just three years ago as an open-source project led by NASA and Rackspace. Since then, multiple leading IT vendors including Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Dell, Cisco, AT&T and others have embraced the platform and are pushing its development forward.

“Intel has a sizable in-house OpenStack deployment,” Hohndel said. “If you want to push technology, you have to see how it’s used and get your hands dirty.”

One of the items that Intel has contributed to OpenStack is Trusted Computing Pools technology.

“The feature enables cloud hosting providers to build trusted computing pools based on hardware  security features, such as Intel Trusted Execution Technology (TXT),” the OpenStack wiki states. “Combined with an external standalone web-based remote attestation server done by a separate open source project, the providers can ensure that the compute node is running software with verified measurements, thus they can establish the foundation for the secure cloud stack.”

NSA Snooping

Going a step further, Intel is now working on technology that will enable OpenStack cloud providers and users to accurately verify where a given workload is running.

“So you have control and verifiability of where physically a virtual machine is running,” Hohndel said. “Some people are nervous about having cloud images running in the US.”

With the recent spate of revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) has the ability to break Web encryption, there is a heightened sensitivity about US-based cloud providers and their ability to ensure user privacy.

“We’re doing a lot of work on [encryption] key management, so we don’t have to rely on the NSA to manage our keys for us,” Hohndel said somewhat satirically.

Open Source

Overall, Hohndel stressed that for Intel, open source has always been a way to drive innovation. It allows the company to participate in development and directly drive innovation.

“Regardless of how big and smart we are at Intel, there will always be more smart people outside of Intel,” Hohndel said.

He added that participating in open-source development enables Intel to tap that pool of smart people who don’t work for Intel.

“This is not a charitable effort for us,” Hohndel added. “We want open source to design great projects and then have it run best on our hardware.”

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Originally published on eWeek.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWeek and contributor to TechWeek

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