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OpenStack: Still waiting for the users

Brandon Butler | May 20, 2014
OpenStack has an impressive list of corporate backers. Red Hat, Rackspace, HP, IBM and AT&T are contributing thousands of lines of code to the open source project and helping deliver an updated version of the cloud computing platform twice a year to allow for easier installation and better manageability.

The drivers behind OpenStack are undeniable though, Cormier says. The success of Amazon Web Services in the cloud is turning heads in enterprise IT. Developers love the ability to get the scale of a public cloud in their own data centers. The benefit is fundamentally in the productivity of software developers. If the people who are making new software and applications for companies can do so faster, that is a huge advantage for businesses. Cloud infrastructure, with its ability to provide fast, easy and self-provisioned access to the IT resources needed to build new software, enables that.

Not the only cloud in the sky

The reality is that customers who want to adopt this new model of software development have choices of how to do this though. Amazon Web Services provides a public cloud service. VMware and Microsoft each allow customers to build out a cloud infrastructure in their data centers, with a matching public cloud offering.

For customers who want to use an open source platform, OpenStack is arguably a leading choice. Chen, the IDC analyst, believes that eventually OpenStack will likely end up as the open source alternative to private cloud infrastructure platforms from companies like Microsoft and VMware. For companies that want an open source cloud, or are heavy Linux users, OpenStack could be a good fit.

Customers even have other open source private cloud platforms to choose from. Eucalyptus, for example, is tightly integrated with AWS's public cloud while CloudStack is another open source cloud platform spearheaded by Citrix.

Backers of the project couldn't be more proud of it, but they're also realistic about where it is in its maturity. OpenStack has grown substantially in almost four years, says Jonathan Bryce, executive director of the non-profit independent foundation that runs the project. "We're in a really key spot now where it's time to get operators and cloud end users to start to be more imbedded in these processes that we've put in place," he said in January. "This is the time when we start to transition from early adopters and technology companies (using OpenStack and) to a broader base of adoption."

OpenStack has had solid traction in some niche areas, such as the scientific and educational communities. The European nuclear laboratory CERN is one of OpenStack's most prominent users, and Tim Bell, CERN's infrastructure head, leads a recently-founded OpenStack end user committee that provides recommendations to vendors who are building new OpenStack code.

Joe Hesse is the director of technology and strategy for the University of California San Francisco's Memory and Aging Center, which houses a group of researchers who use advanced neuro imaging techniques to study diseases at the cellular level. The group formerly ran VMware to virtualize its servers but was looking for a platform for more rapidly provisioning those virtual machines the ESX hypervisor creates. He tested various platforms, including those from VMware, and explored using OpenStack. "Scientific discovery is an open source world," he says. "We run Ubuntu and CentOS, and layer on top of that Python and MatLab code. We're not using things like SQL Server and Exchange. OpenStack, conceptually, was a nice fit for that." The lack of VMware licensing fees attracted him as well to the platform.


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