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Status check on OpenStack: The open source cloud has arrived

Brandon Butler | May 21, 2015
Backed by IBM, HP, Rackspace and 500 other companies, OpenStack has emerged as the open source alternative to Amazon and Microsoft in the cloud.

How Walmart is using OpenStack
At the Summit this week, representatives from the largest brick and mortar retail company in the world spoke about how important the technology has been. The company has 11,000 stores and runs 11 e-commerce websites, which served 1.5 billion page views during last year's holiday period.

The advent of customers buying merchandise on their mobile devices and expecting fast delivery meant that the company needed a technical back end that would be flexible and had the ability to scale out. After a variety of proofs of concepts, WalmartLabs landed on OpenStack a few years ago.

The fact it's an open source project gives Senior Director of Cloud Design Amandeep Singh Juneja peace of mind; he did not want to use proprietary APIs. Walmart is now running a 140,000-core installation of OpenStack, and it's growing.

"It doesn't get any more production than Walmart on Black Friday," OpenStack Foundation Executive Director Jonathan Bryce said after Sing's presentation. "And it's pretty cool that OpenStack is powering that."

Why OpenStack?
In her research Nelson interviewed many users and vendors to get a sense of how organizations are using OpenStack. Jesse Proudman, CEO of Blue Box, which offers a hosted private cloud version of OpenStack, says OpenStack has emerged as the open source alternative to proprietary cloud platforms, such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google and VMware. Nelson said the open source nature of the project creates a perception that it will prevent against vendor lock in and mitigate expensive licensing costs.

That may not always be true, but OpenStack Foundation is trying to make it a reality. At the Summit this week the foundation announced the launch of a marketplace of OpenStack "certified" cloud providers who offer cloud-based virtual machines and storage that have met interoperability standards. There are currently 11 vendors participating including IBM, HP, Rackspace, VMware, Blue Box, Mirantis and others.

Theoretically users could launch services to multiple different public IaaS clouds powered by OpenStack using similar API calls. This "build once, deploy anywhere" mentality that Nelson described has been a major driving factor for many users.

Warnings signs
Like any technology project there are things to watch out for, Nelson warns. First of all, it's important to remember what OpenStack is and what it's not. It is a series of components that can be used to build a cloud, including compute (named Nova), storage (Cinder) and network (Neutron) functionality. The code is free, but deploying OpenStack from the trunk code is not the most likely consumption model. It would be analogous to taking the open source Linux code and running an OS off of it. Higher-level functionality like management and automation are still nascent in the project.


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