OpenStack turns up the heat

An open source project of towering proportions, OpenStack touts marquee enterprise customers and bold initiatives at its jam-packed summit. Can the momentum be sustained?

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I think this harks back to what must have been in Rackspace's head at the outset, which is that in order to compete with Amazon Web Services, we're going to have to engage in some serious disruption. OpenStack was born with the help of ambitious engineers at NASA, and Rackspace got its wish and then some -- to the point where, now that the OpenStack Foundation has become an independent entity, it may soon need to struggle to stay in the top tier of OpenStack providers. Meanwhile, Rackspace's leading NASA collaborator, Chris Kemp, has formed his own company, which earlier this month launched its Nebula One private cloud appliance running OpenStack.

Just a year ago, Rackspace admitted to me that "about 60 percent" of the code for OpenStack had been contributed by Rackspace itself. Today, Rackspace is the No. 2 contributor behind Red Hat. If you're keeping score, ALM innovator zAgile has built a page on the OpenStack site that tracks code commits from dozens of OpenStack contributors. Altogether, says the OpenStack Foundation's Bryce, a total of more than 500 developers are now contributing to the project, which is double the number of just a year ago.

Can dev and ops ever get along?
There's a fault line down the middle of OpenStack that stems from the fundamental composition of the community. On one side are the growing legions of developers who are assembling OpenStack bits; on the other are the ops users of those bits. It may be "the year of the user," but open source developers aren't exactly known for their abundant respect for users and often grow impatient with ops in particular.

A whiff of that dismissive attitude could be found on a yellow warning sign outside the developers' Design Summit area of the conference, which read: "If you have nothing to do, don't do it here."

In part, OpenStack is about enabling the devops trend, which aims to automate the provisioning of dev, test, and deployment to make "agile development" and "continuous delivery" realities rather than just catchphrases. But as a devops panel at the OpenStack Summit revealed, the relationship between dev and ops remains a struggle for control, as dev demands faster turnaround and ops obsesses over maintaining SLAs. In the coming months it will be interesting to see how eagerly OpenStack's developers respond to the needs of ops users. With new OpenStack revisions arriving every six months, the operations folks are going to have their hands full staying up to date.

Building up the stack
Much work remains to be done before OpenStack fulfills its promise. Many of the Summit's sessions were devoted to SDN, a key component of cloud infrastructure that will take years to mature. We're a long way from true workload portability among OpenStack clouds, although the Heat service to orchestrate multiple composite cloud applications, based on the Amazon CloudFormation syntax, should kick things up a notch when it debuts in the Havana release of OpenStack due this fall.

Meanwhile, IBM is pushing to add support for the Oasis standard known as TOSCA (Topology and Orchestration Specification for Cloud Applications), which according to IBM's Diaz is "a way of describing a workload application that's independent of the actual infrastructure that's running it." In a dev session I attended, IBM's scheme to integrate TOSCA into Heat stirred little enthusiasm among the OpenStack developers in the room.

But such divergence is to be expected in an ecosystem this vast. Over the past couple of years I've wondered whether OpenStack could sustain its momentum with such a broad portfolio of projects, not to mention a growing roster of vendors with competing interests. Based on what I'm seeing today, however, OpenStack may already be the most viable cloud alternative to Amazon Web Services, with the key advantage of being able to operate across both public and private clouds.

Is OpenStack the new Linux? A year after InfoWorld published an article by that name, it has become clear that, as Linux once did, OpenStack now stands at the center of development activity for infrastructure software.

This article, "OpenStack turns up the heat," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog. And for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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