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Is OpenStack Ready for the Enterprise? Maybe.

Posted March 5, 2014by David Strom

A lot has happened in the past year with the open-source cloud computing initiative OpenStack: The builds are more sophisticated with more mature components, there are more distributions available, better VMware integration and training programs have also blossomed. But does this mean that OpenStack is completely enterprise-ready? Perhaps, or perhaps not, depending on what you are trying to accomplish.

Certainly, there are some notable exemplary uses of OpenStack by established businesses. For example, Best Buy was spending $20,000 to spin up a single managed virtual machine (VM) back in 2011. That was motivation to rebuild its ecommerce site and use OpenStack to serve up its Web product pages. Now Best Buy integrates 40 different development teams' work using this software and produces pages that take on average 2.5 seconds to load. Before OpenStack, it took anywhere from seven to 30 seconds to load the same content. They describe the effort in this video of their presentation at last spring’s summit.

It wasn’t the only success story presented last fall at the latest OpenStack Summit, held in Hong Kong. Most are from Internet-facing businesses such as eBay and Paypal, rather than bricks-and-mortar retailers like Best Buy. eBay uses OpenStack widely and has given demos at earlier summits.

“If you look at the excellent User Story page on the OpenStack website, you’ll see a lot of documented customer references, but not the traditional enterprise segment that vendors are after,” posts Alessandro Pellili, a Gartner senior analyst. When Pellili went to Hong Kong, he saw "a world where VMware and many other mainstream vendors don’t have a place. There are a growing number of IT organizations that embrace risk in a new way and reject the established approach to enterprise software.”

However, there is still concern about whether enough big companies are deploying OpenStack at scale to push it into the mainstream, Barb Darrow writes in GigaOm. “It sounds like that won’t happen until upgrades and migrations are proven to be much, much easier than they’ve been to date. Even some in the OpenStack community admit that upgrades and migrations are more difficult than they should be, especially if the customer is not using a packaged version of OpenStack from one of the major vendors.” 

Gartner’s Pellili agrees that installation is still a problem. “OpenStack installation issues are nothing new, and it’s somehow shocking that three years into the project the code is still so complex to install.”

Yet there are plenty of places to download it. OpenStack is now on its ninth version, and the production code is called Havana. PistonCloud was an early and free offering, which has since been joined by HP Cloud (who offers the first 90 days of any new account for free), IBM Smart Cloud, StackOps, and Dreamhost (its beta offering is available since October 2012). Indeed, DreamHost and RedHat have been the biggest code contributors in the past year.

To help developers over this steep learning curve, plenty of places offer OpenStack training. At the low end is PistonCloud’s three-hour “101” course for $285; at the high end, there is this three-day online course from RedHat with a completion certificate for $2,400. In between, lots of other training resources are available, such as those documented by Keith Townsend, who works for PwC.

Part of OpenStack’s problem is one of perception and positioning. “Our biggest challenge is that people see OpenStack and assume that it is a product. It is a framework for building private clouds,” says PistonCloud’s CTO Christopher MacGown.

Even eBay admits that OpenStack doesn't exist in a vacuum. “OpenStack gives some very key ingredients to build a cloud, but it is not a cloud in a box,” according to Subbu Allamaraju, the chief engineer in charge of their OpenStack private cloud. And Townsend asks, “Is the value of VMware’s management stack enough to keep you tied to what is perceived to be an expensive hypervisor stack?”

Managing many multiple VMs does seem to be the lever that many IT shops are using to move away from VMware or Amazon Web Services. For example, in Hong Kong PayPal engineers spoke about their OpenStack implementation and integration of both OpenStack’s KVM and VMware’s ESX hypervisors under one management umbrella. 

VMware has helped matters by contributing its VCDrivers to enable OpenStack to manage vSphere clusters. They claim that subsequent versions of OpenStack will have better and more complex drivers enabling them to do more with the VMware management and movement tools. That will allow OpenStack’s persistent block storage, called Cinder, to be saved as VMDKs. This was the result of VMware buying one of OpenStack’s major contributors Nicira. Another is a yet-to-be-seen effort called NSX that will begin a set of virtual security services; it is expected later this year. Another acquisition, the open source platform-as-a-service Cloud Foundry, has been spun out of the VMware mother ship and is now called the Pivotal Initiative.

Of course, VMware isn’t doing all of this out of some open source altruism. It would like the world to shift to where vSphere becomes the center of a software-defined datacenter that manages a variety of hypervisors and orchestrates the movement and provisioning of various VMs.

Kenneth Hui, anOpen Cloud Architect at Rackspace, has a series of blog posts where he documents how to mix and match the two environments. VMware has a sample OpenStack vSphere VM appliance to help aid the integration. Hui posits, “The questions to be asked in such a scenario are which hypervisors will be used with OpenStack and will the OpenStack Cloud be deployed alongside a legacy vSphere environment?”

And even one VMware “conspiracy theorist” has moved away from the grassy knoll last year. Boris Renski, the EVP for Mirantis, now feels that VMware is genuine in its support for OpenStack. “VMware actually did make a very tangible commitment to ensure that OpenStack runs well with VMware products – a sensible move,” he says. 

Finally, there is the OpenDaylight Project, another open source effort. It is being run by the Linux Foundation and aims to accelerate adoption of software-defined networking and to create a solid foundation for virtualizing all network functionality. OpenDaylight had its first conference in Santa Clara in February, and has attracted more than a hundred developers in its first seven months with more than a dozen code contributions being included in its first release.

So should you dive into the OpenStack pool? Maybe you should start with wading into the shallow end first. Certainly this year seems more likely that it can be useful in a wider number of virtualization situations, and your development team should at least get familiar with the KVM hypervisor and a few of the dozens of different OpenStack projects.

 

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David Strom is a well-know author of thousands of magazine articles and two books on network computing and Internet applications and the founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine. He can be found at strominator.com and @dstrom on Twitter.

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