Forrester: OpenStack, AWS are today's cloud 'safe bets'

If you're looking for a de facto standard for clouds, quit holding your breath: OpenStack and AWS are it. But the buck won't stop there forever

Forrester: OpenStack, AWS are today's cloud 'safe bets'
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Forrester Research's newly issued report, "The State of Cloud Platform Standard, Q4 2016," regards OpenStack and AWS as the de facto standards for compute and storage in the cloud.

That by itself isn't news. OpenStack has been regarded as a standard by Forrester since 2014, and AWS has been the top measure since it was considered clever to pair up talk about cloud computing with clipart of the sky.

But Forrester is watching how standards-setting bodies are using the existing base of open source projects as a starting point for real standards. The analyst firm also notes that OpenStack and AWS are far from the last words on their respective subjects.

The players and the game

The key words are "bodies" and "standards," both plural. Cloud computing is large and contains multitudes, so Forrester's report describes a panoply of standards groups as broken down into six categories:

  1. Definitions: This includes groups like the NIST and ISO that provide both formal descriptions of terms like "cloud" and standards for usage, like how to handle personally identifiable information.
  2. Security certifications bodies: The Cloud Security Alliance is in this number.
  3. Standards development organizations or SDOs. This includes the ISO, as well as OASIS and DMTF.
  4. Rapidly iterating projects: These come from various SDOs, such as the TOSCA initiative to enable greater portability of cloud workloads and IT services in clouds.
  5. Customer councils: These are groups that represent cloud customers to hear out their problems and connect them with the right industry groups to find solutions.
  6. Network/telecom-focused groups: Cloud in general, and OpenStack in particular, have a strong investment from groups like the ITU.

The upshot of this slicing-and-dicing: Don't expect any one authority to tell you what is the cloud or how to use it best. Moreover, don't expect that to change. Consolidation of cloud standards doesn't mean there'll be a concomitant consolidation of cloud standardization bodies. The standards -- a galaxy of them -- will be, by necessity, spread out across a great many different groups.

The 'Stack is still king

If the open-source-powered cloud has a single standard bearer, says Forrester, it remains OpenStack. There may be other open source IaaS projects -- OpenNebula, Eucalyptus, and CloudStack -- but OpenStack is the only one that has any real momentum or clout. That's remained true even as OpenStack took years to overcome its reputation for being complex and difficult to deploy.

Forrester admits this -- one of the report's key takeaways about OpenStack is that using it means "heavy development investment." Wal-Mart may be deploying its own version of OpenStack, but it's the exception, not the rule. Most companies, even larger ones, are best off sticking with a packaged solution.

From what Forrester uncovered, most do; 26 percent use a "series of private cloud solutions," and 23 percent use "commercial private cloud software," but only 12 percent use a pure open source solution. Meanwhile, 13 percent stated they were "purchasing a converged hardware/software solution," which doesn't bode well for Microsoft's plans to offer a vendor-certified on-ramp to a hybrid Azure experience.

OpenStack distributions tend not to be interoperable, but Forrester doesn't see that as a deal-killer. Rather, it's an artifact of how each OpenStack vendor tries to make its product worth picking. "Complete freedom from lock-in is a myth," says Forrester; InfoWorld's Matt Asay concurs.

Working on what's next

However, Forrester hasn't dismissed the importance of workload portability. An entire section of the report focuses on the issue and cites five initiatives: OASIS TOSCA, vendor-neutral templates, platform-agnostic PaaS, abstracting tools from platforms, and containers.

Of the bunch, containers seem the most visible and successful, but Forrester notes they're not without hazards like security, policy management, or application contexts. But the speed and depth of industry consolidation around containers makes them seem like the best bet compared to Forrester's other candidates.

Then there's the question of what's next. Forrester identifies three big future standards to watch:

  1. Cloud Foundry. Between this and OpenShift, the open source PaaS market has suddenly become a thing again. In Cloud Foundry's case, its support for all major public clouds and wide industry consolidation have given it a leg up.
  2. Kubernetes. Forrester focuses on the tech; even OpenStack is recentering around Google's container orchestration technology. But the Big K's strong user community is another big driver.
  3. Microsoft Azure. Forrester cites the fact that Microsoft has deep access to enterprise IT thanks to its ubiquitous presence. But with Azure shaping up as the no. 2 option, Azure API compatibility "is quickly becoming a must-have for others in the space."

For the near term, Forrester still recommends OpenStack and AWS as "safe bets," in part because OpenStack "solutions have already started to proliferate in the market and will also dictate API standards." It may not be ideal, but it's here and now -- and if something better comes along, it may be built on their shoulders.

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