A reality check for OpenStack

Lew Moorman, president of Rackspace, is bullish on OpenStack's future, but can any early-stage project survive so much excitement?

Last week I caught up with Rackspace president Lew Moorman at the GigaOM Structure event to promote OpenStack, the open source "cloud operating system" started by Rackspace and NASA.

Moorman's pitch went something like this: In the quest for a more automated and agile data center, we need not slavishly follow the cloud leader, as Eucalyptus has done emulating Amazon Web Services, or get locked into proprietary clouds from VMware or Microsoft. An open source alternative needs to emerge -- and it has, in the form of OpenStack.

[ For an early take on OpenStack, check out "OpenStack wants to be your data center OS." | InfoWorld's experts take you through what you need to know about the cloud. Download our "Private Cloud Deep Dive," our "Cloud Security Deep Dive," our "Cloud Storage Deep Dive," and our "Cloud Services Deep Dive." ]

"What I would argue is that there is going to be a Linux in this market," Moorman told me. InfoWorld explored precisely that issue in "Is OpenStack the new Linux?" by contributing editor Oliver Rist just a few weeks ago.

In that article, Rist was clearly captivated by the phenomenal community excitement around this sprawling open source project. But he also encountered nasty industry politics, along with customers who had evaluated OpenStack and walked away nonplussed because the bits aren't fully cooked yet.

With the buzz around OpenStack reaching a deafening level -- pretty impressive for a project less than two years old -- I felt it was time to ask Moorman some key questions about OpenStack's progress and prospects, given Rackspace's key role. The following is an edited version of the interview.

Eric Knorr: With OpenStack, you're biting off a whole lot more than Linux did. You're talking about storage, compute, networking, authentication, and more. It took Linux maybe 10 years to go from a hobbyist's thing to an enterprise server OS. How can you expect OpenStack to be usable in the near future if you're trying to cover so many bases?

Lew Moorman: I think one of the things the [OpenStack] Foundation is going to wrestle with very early on is where does OpenStack end. I am more of the point of view that we should keep it pretty simple in the core elements and then create a framework for extensions that can plug in very easily.

What I hope is that we get very mature in the basics of compute, storage, and networking -- and even those are pluggable. Quantum [the networking component] allows you to use multiple different network nodes and plug in multiple different technologies. So it's built as a modular framework, and that's at the core of how most people think about it.

No one is building, say, an actual SAN product. We're talking about a framework into which those can be integrated. OpenStack is not really trying to re-create everything in IT. It's just going to control the data center, and all the components are going to integrate through this framework.

Knorr: Can you say at this point where the core OpenStack services stop? Essex, the last release, included OpenStack Identity for authentication and OpenStack Dashboard for monitoring and self-provisioning. By default, are those part of the core, too?

Moorman: I think those are critical components, and how that unfolds and what is added is going to be determined by the technical board [of the OpenStack Foundation]. I think that everything you deploy in the cloud world is going to have those components. So is it a lot to take on? Yeah, it is. But it is going to be deployed, in my mind, in every data center over the next 20 years.

It's hard, yes, but I think everyone said the same thing about Linux back in the day.

Knorr: Even as strong an advocate of OpenStack as Chris Kemp mentioned that in his Nebula appliance, OpenStack is only one of 50 technologies in there.

Moorman: But that's because it's a framework. Different storage technologies, different networking technologies -- we're using Nicira, but you don't have to use Nicira -- but the framework is common.

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