With more enterprise uptake, OpenStack turns a corner

OpenStack has long relied on community to mask its production failings, but new survey may indicate a surge in adoption

digital enterprise

OpenStack may well be a "fake cloud," according to Amazon Web Services, but enterprises don't seem to mind.

At least, not if the latest OpenStack survey results are to be believed. While OpenStack has long been stronger in community than deployments, that tide may be turning. Several thousand people showed up for OpenStack Summit in Paris this week, but this time, they're doing more than talking.

In fact, in a sign that OpenStack has truly arrived, demand for qualified OpenStack engineers far outstrips supply.

OpenStack gets real

It hasn't always been this way. For years OpenStack has packed conference venues but has seen tepid adoption. Now, according to a Red Hat-sponsored IDG survey of 200 enterprise IT decision makers, 84 percent of enterprises plan to deploy OpenStack.

That's a lot -- and it represents an about-face on the OpenStack market from merely one year ago. Back in November 2013, then Gartner analyst (and now Red Hat general manager) Alessandro Perilli declared: "OpenStack penetration in the large enterprise market is minimal."

Now, according to Red Hat's latest user survey, enterprises are moving off the sidelines and into production:

OpenStack deployments

That's a stunning change of OpenStack fortunes. Intriguingly, innovation may tell us why.

Innovating at home

Speaking at CloudOpen in October 2014, AWS lead for kernels and operating systems Chris Schlaeger spoke of the need to control all aspects of infrastructure -- hardware and software -- to truly innovate.  As he said, "In order to innovate, the ability to modify every parameter of your system is key, and Linux and open source is a good basis for that."

It's not surprising, then, that enterprises cite the "ability to innovate" as the key driver for OpenStack adoption, up from the sixth-most-cited driver in 2013.

OpenStack innovation

Of course, enterprises can also innovate on AWS. Netflix offers a brilliant example of that, as do a number of startups that primarily build on AWS, as Leo Polovets' mining of AngelList data reveals.

Also, no one is saying that betting on OpenStack is a sure thing. Former OpenStack insider Andrew Clay Shafer has been frank about the likelihood of failure:

I have seen no less than 100 Million USD spent on bad OpenStack implementations that will return little or have net negative value.
Some of that has to be put on the ignorance and arrogance of some of the organizations spending that money, but OpenStack's core competency, above all else, has been marketing -- and if not culpable, OpenStack has at least been complicit.

But Shafer's post, like Perilli's, was written a year ago. Much seems to have changed in that year.

Don't wait, but see

The reality of OpenStack's adoption is probably neither as dire as it was once painted to be, nor as rosy as it seems now. At the Summit, companies like BMW took the stage to praise OpenStack even as they warned about the need to be patient, as TechCrunch reports.

For example, BMW's head of data center Stefan Lenz, insisted, "We need more stability in the future," while also suggesting, "But that doesn't prevent us from using it right now as it is." Its production deployment isn't quite production: Lenz dubbed it a "semi-productive" environment "that is mostly dedicated to developing the company's practices around OpenStack."

OpenStack isn't the great cloud savior, but it's no longer all hype and no substance, either. This represents real progress.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.