The NSA Uses OpenStack – But Its Clouds Promise Freedom

Sean Michael Kerner

The NSA has contributed to OpenStack, writes Sean Micchael Kerner from Hong Kong – but it hasn’t given it a back door

Six months ago, the world was turned upside down when then-unknown National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden turned up in Hong Kong and disclosed what is likely the biggest intelligence leak in modern history.

Snowden’s disclosure has led to a culture of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) about US tech vendors and, in particular, US cloud vendors, but here in Hong Kong this week, cloud technology originally born in the US might well just change that.

Green cloud finger © Singkham ShutterstockOpenStack – open to NSA?

The OpenStack Summit is here this week, showcasing a technology originally born through the co-operation of NASA and Rackspace and now one of the fastest-growing open-source collaborative software development projects of all time. Six months ago, before any of us had ever heard of Snowden, the NSA got up on stage at the OpenStack Summit in Portland, Oregon, to provide some heavily redacted details about how the US spy agency is using and also contributing to OpenStack. The NSA staff has also played a key role in helping to secure OpenStack and harden it for production usage.

No, the NSA is not putting back doors into OpenStack, an open-source framework with hundreds of active developers. It is somewhat ironic that the same organisation that has (through the Snowden leaks) done so much to damage the state of the US cloud industry is also helping it with OpenStack. The NSA needs OpenStack as much as anyone: it needs robust cloud technology, and that’s what OpenStack delivers.

Step back from all the revelations about the NSA overstepping the boundaries of privacy and remember that it collects massive amounts of data and has constantly evolving needs—in my view that’s a perfect use case for the cloud.

OpenStack isn’t just about the US cloud industry, and that’s why the Hong Kong event could well be the most crucial milestone yet in the open-source cloud platform’s nascent existence. OpenStack is now a global community. At the event, we’ll hear from made-in-Hong Kong efforts including Titan and China’s United Cloud. Vendors from around the world are making OpenStack their own. While OpenStack was born in the United States, it is open source and is the property  of the Free World and all those that embrace the tenets of software freedom and the open cloud.

While the NSA can and does benefit from OpenStack, so too can those that are now affected by the FUD surrounding US cloud vendors.

Her’s my view of a cloud utopian vision. Everyone runs OpenStack — albeit their own compatible flavor — matched to their own particular needs and technology tastes (choose your own vendor, hypervisor, networking and storage). When the time comes, due to FUD or otherwise, to move from Provider X, interoperability across OpenStack implementations means you can move to Provider Y, whether that provider is in the US or Hong Kong. That cloud utopia doesn’t quite exist today, but it’s not all that far off.

The event this week will showcase and educate Hong Kong about OpenStack, and it will also educate the world about OpenStack outside of the US. The event will also drive the platform forward, as the design summit for the next release of OpenStack, code-named Icehouse, is also here, and it will have a strong global influence.

Snowden came to Hong Kong to leak information in the hope that he could reveal privacy violations and excessive government snooping. OpenStack comes to Hong Kong with a very different purpose: to share information and to build a new technology platform that anyone can benefit from, even Snowden’s former employer.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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Originally published on eWeek.