Rackspace is collaborating with NASA to build an open-source cloud infrastructure that it said will help developers avoid provider lock-in with a Linux type model.

Today, Rackspace announced the launch of the OpenStack cloud platform. The platform consists of a distributed object store based on Rackspace Cloud Files, and a forthcoming compute provisioning engine that is a hybrid of Rackspace and NASA’s Nebula technology. Nebula is an open-source cloud-computing project developed to provide an alternative to the construction of data centers, according to NASA.

Application portability is one of the primary goals of the OpenStack project, said Jonathan Bryce, founder of Rackspace Cloud. Portability will help drive faster adoption of cloud computing in enterprises and in the government, he explained.

“One of Rackspace’s intentions is to drive standards or, at least, interoperability in the cloud space, so I suspect this project will add some gas to that fire,” said RedMonk analyst Michael Cote.

“Standards in the cloud space are always up and down: People who are leaders say it’s too early to worry about standards; new entrants and leader-hopefuls tend to emphasize it more, while several surveys of users show that security is a wider concern than interop and standards.

“Standards and interop are up in the air at the moment. Long term, they matter tremendously, but there’s such froth in the cloud space nowadays that it’s sort of all at once on that account,” Cote added.

An open cloud ecosystem will be positioned to drive standards for interoperability and security, said Chris Kemp, NASA’s CTO for IT. It will give the government a chance to write code to address some of those concerns immediately, he added.

Standards can be reached through market saturation instead of a formal multi-year effort from standards bodies, Bryce said. “We’re not patient enough to wait for standards bodies to come up with full recommendations. We’re involved in those efforts, but customers come to us with requirements daily,” he said.

The Object Management Group is spearheading a multi-party effort to establish a uniform vocabulary for cloud computing, as well as to synchronize standards development. Participants include the Distributed Management Task Force, the Open Grid Forum, the Storage Networking Industry Association, the Open Cloud Consortium and the Cloud Security Alliance.

Rackspace’s intention is to create a Linux type ecosystem, Bryce explained. He compared the project to efforts to create POSIX (Portable Operating System Interface for Unix), a Unix API with a shell interface and utilities, during the early days of Linux. POSIX became a standard and helped Linux grow.

Rackspace’s ulterior motive could be to compete against market leader Amazon on openness and standards, Cote said. OpenStack would also give Rackspace a hedge against the private cloud trend, which may funnel money out of the public cloud market, he added.

“If OpenStack can get into private cloud projects, Rackspace extends its sales pipeline into those enterprise accounts, whereas folks like VMware, Microsoft, IBM, Eucalyptus, Ubuntu, Red Hat and Cloud.com would have crushed Rackspace’s foot in the door,” Cote said.