OpenStack wants to be your data center OS

A growing number of IT organizations plan to build a private cloud -- and OpenStack, an open source cloud infrastructure platform, is emerging as the foundation of choice

Why do you need a private cloud? What could possibly induce you to go to the time and expense of transforming a big chunk of your data center into an environment resembling that of a cloud service provider?

Well, for one thing, you're probably partway there already. According to most surveys, roughly half of the x86 servers operated by enterprises have been virtualized -- and virtualization is the key foundational element of the private cloud.

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But as Matt Prigge observes in his excellent post, "How I learned to stop worrying and love the private cloud," virtualization itself creates a crying need for the chargeback, security, resource allocation, and quality-of-service features of the private cloud. And OpenStack, among other solutions -- notably Eucalyptus, a private cloud platform compatible with Amazon Web Services APIs -- provides the necessary bundle of software to do all that.

In the old IT infrastructure model, physical servers and storage were spec'd and dedicated to specific applications and stakeholders. It was easy to determine what belonged to whom. In a virtualized infrastructure, everything is shared, so you need a way to automatically spec virtual resources, charge back their costs, and secure their workloads. Along the way, the private cloud enables you to create Web portals that business units can use to provision their own resources without pestering IT.

So why do I believe OpenStack has the edge among private cloud infrastructure platforms? After all, there are a bunch of them. A partial list would include Abiquo, (recently acquired by Citrix), Eucalyptus, RedHat CloudForms, and of course VMware's vSphere, vShield 5, vCloud Director, and vCenter Operations. Even Microsoft's Hyper-V and System Center together provide a private cloud stack.

I'm not dismissing any of those private cloud solutions -- particularly Eucalyptus, whose broad customer base and Amazon-compatible APIs make it an attractive solution. I'm just saying that OpenStack, co-created by IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service) provider Rackspace and NASA, seems to have the most momentum, with more than 80 vendors now backing it, including Canonical, Cisco, Citrix, Dell, Intel, and Microsoft. Plus, OpenStack is available under Apache 2.0, the least restrictive open source license.

Both Eucalyptus and OpenStack serve as both storage and compute platforms and give you a choice of hypervisors as the underpinning of your private cloud. And just as the Amazon-compatible APIs of Eucalyptus enable you to move workloads easily between your private cloud and Amazon's public cloud, OpenStack workloads have similar interoperability with Rackspace's public cloud.

This hybrid aspect has great appeal. Being able to burst as needed from a private cloud to a public one means you no longer need to buy infrastructure for peak demand. Obviously, Rackspace's public cloud is much, much smaller than Amazon's -- but Rackspace and its partners are going all out to encourage a panoply of public cloud providers to adopt OpenStack, as well as enterprise customers. With all those big company backers, the race is on. Plus, OpenStack can be further productized: Citrix is building its Project Olympus cloud infrastructure product (a commercial release will be available by end of year) based on OpenStack.

Interestingly, virtualization leader VMware also understands the power of the public/private model. In a recent interview with VMware CEO Paul Maritz, he noted that the company is working with telcos around the world to provide VMware-based IaaS to customers.

The private cloud enables you to manage a big chunk of your data center as if it were one big machine. The mind-blowing question is: Which operating system should you choose to run it? Here we are in 2011, still moving inexorably back to the old mainframe model.

This article, "OpenStack wants to be your data center OS," originally appeared at Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog, and for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.