OpenStack grows up: But is it grown up enough for enterprise IT?

The seventh release of OpenStack code for building public and private clouds is out, but some still question is its ready for enterprise use

Less than a year ago the cool thing for IT vendors to do was jump on the OpenStack bandwagon.

Everyone was hopping on: Red Hat, IBM, and even VMware signed on as partners to the open source cloud computing platform, joining Rackspace, HP, Cisco, and Dell that were already backing the project. All these companies had a unified goal, says Marc Brien, an analyst at Domicity, who tracks the movers and shakers of the cloud world. They wanted to stave off the fast-growing dominance of Amazon Web Services in the cloud.

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But Brien questioned exactly how OpenStack would work out. Would Rackspace, an original creator of the project, have problems relinquishing control to a newly formed OpenStack Foundation? Were there too many cooks in the kitchen, meaning that each of the growing number of member companies would fork the OpenStack trunk code into different directions, fragmenting the initiative? Would interest among open source developers wane as corporate interests continue to bandwagon onto the project.

Brien says we now have the answers: No, no and no. "It's a year later and OpenStack has such momentum that virtually all the major server-side vendors now feel the need to have a foot in the OpenStack camp, and to make an effort to play nicely," he says.

Earlier this month OpenStack released the seventh iteration of its code, each one delivered on-time in the six-month cycle. The latest version, code-named Grizzly, incorporates the three major components for building a cloud: Compute, storage and network, while attention has increasingly been paid to integrating the software with existing technologies and scaling it for larger deployments. Organizers, meanwhile, are preparing for the project's semi-annual summit, set to be held next week in Portland, Ore., and with more than 2,500 contributors, vendors and users signed up, it's set to once again be the biggest conference in OpenStack's short history, more than double the size of the project's most recent October show.

But despite all the momentum, there still seems to be a general question among regular IT folks: OpenStack is clearly growing up, but it is grown up enough for enterprise IT to use it in a significant way?

[CLOUD SHOWDOWN: Amazon vs. Rackspace (OpenStack) vs. Microsoft vs. Google]

Yes, but...

Experts who follow the cloud and OpenStack specifically say yes, the platform has matured to a point where enterprises can consider using it, but with a caveat or two.

Using an open source cloud computing platform is the way to power next-generation computing, says Lew Tucker, Cisco's cloud computing vice president and co-chairman of the OpenStack Foundation. OpenStack should be the platform of choice for both public cloud service providers to build commercial cloud offerings on, and for business end users to power their own private clouds. "It's a new technology," Tucker says. "The enterprise naturally takes some time to understand how these new cloud platforms can be applied in traditional types of data centers." But OpenStack is a complication of software components specifically designed for operating a cloud computing environment. For vendors, it allows them to leverage the work of a community of hundreds of developers who have worked to advance the code. For users, OpenStack allows the potential to have the same platform for your private cloud as multiple different public clouds, enabling a federated hybrid cloud.

That vision of an OpenStack-based hybrid cloud isn't quite yet reality today, but it's getting there. So far Rackspace and HP are the two big public cloud providers that have used OpenStack as the basis for their offerings, but Dell has promised to launch an OpenStack cloud of its own later this year as well. As more providers roll out OpenStack-powered products and services, this vision will become more realistic, says David Linthicum, senior vice president at consultancy Cloud Technology Partners.

One thing that is not lacking in the OpenStack movement is momentum and hype. "They need to turn the interest into many more enterprise users, and that's only going to come with time," Linthicum says. "The next two years will be critical."

Vendors make their play

In an effort to change the perception that OpenStack is not yet ready for end users to adopt, a central theme expected to be hammered home during next week's summit will be the user stories. On the OpenStack web site, there are already user stories from companies like PayPal, Intel, Cisco and Mercado Libre - the eBay of Latin America. These companies are some of the leading technology companies in the world though, they're not necessarily run-of-the-mill enterprises that have deployed OpenStack.

OpenStack vendors say they're working with more and more of those regular old enterprise customers though. CloudScaling, which has its own OpenStack-powered cloud platform, announced UbiSoft and Living Social as new customers its working with, for example.

Piston Cloud Computing Co., whose CTO Josh McKenty is on the OpenStack Foundation board of directors, says many of his customers are jumping ship from Amazon Web Services and looking to spin up private clouds behind their own firewalls that have the look and feel of a public IaaS cloud like AWS's. Both Piston and CloudScaling have new versions of their software for building clouds being released this month in preview of the Grizzly summit.

Other vendors are taking a different approach to packaging OpenStack. One of the more closely watched companies related to the OpenStack movement has been Nebula, whose founder and CEO, Chris Kemp served as CTO of IT at NASA where OpenStack's compute component was born. Instead of a software distribution, Nebula has created a software-hardware combination that Kemp says can be plugged in, switched on and an OpenStack-powered IaaS cloud is up and running within minutes. A turn-key OpenStack solution has not been available on the market that is, he says, until now.

The different approaches by Nebula, Piston and HP show the wide range of use cases OpenStack member companies have taken with the project thus far.

Some companies, like Piston, CloudScaling, as well as others like SUSE and Canonical, have taken the OpenStack code and massaged it into a distribution that is sold as a pre-packaged software stack users can deploy. On the opposite side of the coin are vendors who are using OpenStack as the basis for their public cloud platform; companies like HP, Rackspace, and soon Dell, fit this bill.

Then there is a whole ecosystem of OpenStack member companies who are ensuring that their products and services work in the OpenStack ecosystem. VMware and Microsoft, for example, have done work to ensure their hypervisors, ESX and Hyper-V respectively, work in OpenStack clouds, which are new features in the Grizzly release. And finally, there are consultants like Mirantis, which help organizations deploy OpenStack themselves.

The code rolls on

Whatever the approach of OpenStack member companies, project backers couldn't be happier with the progress. In the fall of 2012 the Folsom release of the code added what many considered one of the final significant missing pieces of the code in virtual networking capabilities through the Quantum project.

The latest Grizzly release of the code is about making OpenStack scale and integrate with existing systems more easily. Users can now manage multiple OpenStack clouds through a single console; there are new drivers that ensure it is compatible with a wide range of products commonplace in the enterprise market - from vendors such as HP, IBM, NetApp and Red Hat, for example.

The next release of the code, expected toward the end of 2013 named Havana, will bring with it some more fine-grained features, like a metering and billing service and an orchestration component for more easily managing and deploying OpenStack clouds. "It's getting to be very mature, especially in the areas of basic functionality," says OpenStack Foundation executive director Jonathan Bryce.

OpenStack is going global too. IBM, which recently came out with a significant backer, has worked to translate OpenStack guides into other languages, says OpenStack Foundation COO Mark Collier. To feed that international support, organizers are considering bringing the next Havana summit conference to an international location outside of the U.S. in late 2013.

Even with all the momentum, the project is still in its early days, and there are other open source platforms competing with OpenStack. CloudStack, which ceremoniously broke away from OpenStack last year and is backed by Citrix, is another open source cloud platform already in production and deployed with a nice uptake in the telecommunications market, says Zeus Kerravala, analyst at ZK Research. Eucalyptus is another open source platform that advertises close allegiance with Amazon Web Services, proclaiming to be the private cloud version of AWS.

"I think a lot of people are still kicking the tires on OpenStack," Kerravala says. "Once we see some more classic enterprise implementations, that may open people's eyes up a little more."

Gary Chen, an analyst with IDC who has been tracking OpenStack agrees. "OpenStack is still in the watching, and maybe a little bit of (proof of concept) stage for most enterprises," he says. Mainly do-it-yourself service providers have latched onto the project, but he says it's likely still at least a year or two away from being a significant play in the enterprise market. More offerings that are fully supported need to be rolled out, he says, and perhaps even more broadly, enterprises need to have a case for using cloud in general, which has been a slow uptake in the enterprise market.

"It's just a matter of time," Chen says. "With all the products and vendors involved in the project, it's hard to see how OpenStack will not be a success in some form. It's just a question of what form that will be."

Network World senior writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

This story, "OpenStack grows up: But is it grown up enough for enterprise IT?" was originally published by Network World.

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