What is OpenStack and why do you need to know?

Aptira Pty Ltd

By Anthony Caruana
Monday, 24 June, 2013

What is OpenStack and why do you need to know?

Dubbed the ‘Linux of the cloud’, OpenStack is an important element of cloud interoperability.

OpenStack has been around for about three years. It’s an open source project that defines delivery of infrastructure as a service, or IaaS. One of the challenges for businesses considering IaaS services has been vendor lock-in. Once you choose a vendor, the ability to shift at the end of a contract or if you’re disappointed has been difficult.

OpenStack promises to deliver a solution where the transfer of data and, vitally, configuration is simplified. All of the set-up and configuration scripts are transportable so all that shifting between providers would only require rerunning the scripts and pointing your internal systems to the new service provider.

Why would vendors bother? After all, adherence to OpenStack would mean that the differentiation vendors crave would be diluted. However, that’s not the case. The OpenStack view is that the physical infrastructure is not the differentiator between service providers. Rather, it’s the services they offer that sits on that infrastructure that differentiates IaaS vendors.

A key element of OpenStack is RefStack - this defines a reference architecture, training and certification for service providers and a consistent delivery model so that interoperability between providers is enabled for customers.

It’s important to note that OpenStack is still relatively immature. Tristan Goode, CEO of service provider Aptira, highlighted that OpenStack still needs to do a better job of addressing the needs of SMBs. Also, some service providers are using the OpenStack branding even though they are not truly compliant and that there is a still a US-centric bias in what OpenStack endeavours to deliver. In Goode’s view, if OpenStack were a child, it would be through the ‘terrible twos’, moving into early childhood.

Like many open source projects, OpenStack is supported by a number of large companies. Over 150 are part of the project including Intel, AMD, Cisco, Dell, Ericsson, HP, IBM, NEC and Yahoo!. The project started as a collaboration between Rackspace and NASA.

In reality, OpenStack comprises several subprojects. These are compute, block and object storage, networking, identity, imaging, a dashboard and integration with Amazon Web Services.

User group support is very strong. The success of many open source projects starts with the efforts of enthusiastic and knowledgeable user communities. OpenStack is not exception. According to Goode, the Australian user group is one of the most vigorous in the world with the Indian group growing quickly. Globally, there’s a shift happening in these groups as the membership has moved from students and hobbyists to enterprise architects.

CIO - need to know

It’s clear that cloud services such as IaaS are an important element of the enterprise architecture. If you haven’t already started using services from cloud-based infrastructure providers, you’re probably already looking at them and where they fit into your plans.

What happens with the effort you’ve mustered if you need to change providers? If they are OpenStack compliant then you can move to another OpenStack IaaS provider more easily. However, it’s critical that you investigate your options carefully as not everyone running the OpenStack logo is 100% compliant.

Like any emerging standard, it’s important to look at the larger players in the market. They are most likely to drive changes as they have more market power and, most likely, more resources to define and influence the development of the standard.

OpenStack is new but is backed by some very large supporters. For that reason, it needs to be on the CIO and enterprise architect’s radar.

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