OpenStack’s huge momentum is undeniable. IBM, RedHat, NetApp, Rackspace, HP, Dell, Cisco, Intel and even VMware have committed significant funds and human resources to this project. But why would companies, that are otherwise competing rather fiercely, sit on one table to build an OpenSource cloud platform?
The answer is certainly not “altruism”, as this is not a characteristic that is well appreciated by shareholders and boards. Each one of these organizations aims at selling as much hardware, software and services as they possibly can. OpenStack could be seen as the new “arena” in which these vendors compete for customers today. Building this new “arena” was necessary, as customers became tired of immature point solutions with constant concerns of technology islands and vendor lock-in.
Individual vendors now use their OpenStack contributions and capabilities as a main competitive differentiator. IBM was the first of the Big 4 to announce the fact that all of its future cloud offerings would be founded on the OpenStack codebase. IBM SmartCloud Orchestrator, which is built on OpenStack, offers additional management, security and orchestration capabilities and of course the peace of mind for customers to have IBM back their OpenStack implementation (see EMA's Impact Brief on IBM SmartCloud Orchestrator). Other vendors, such as HP, Cisco, RedHat and Dell are in the process of establishing their own OpenStack-driven cloud platforms.
From a long-term strategy perspective, all of these vendors collaborating on a central IaaS cloud platform makes perfect sense, as their competitive selling points are located much higher in the solution stack. This means that vendors can save resources developing the vastly commoditized IaaS foundation for their clouds, while focusing their efforts on core differentiators, such application and service management, high availability and disaster recovery, security, advanced analytics, capacity planning and performance monitoring.
Network and storage vendors, such as EMC, Dell, Cisco and NetApp support OpenStack to reduce development and integration cost, when compared to working together with a plethora of fundamentally different proprietary cloud solutions.
So far the theory…
The Core Business Value of OpenStack: Workload Portability and Interoperability
Workload portability and interoperability are the holy grail of modern enterprise IT. Based on EMA research, many customers are afraid of moving workloads to the cloud –private or public– due to lock-in concerns. Every organization that has tried to migrate major workloads to a new home -physical, virtual or cloud- has experienced the tremendous pain involved with this process. In an ideal world, IT operations would be able to proactively and dynamically move workloads to where they can run in the most cost effective way. This would mean the end of vendor lock-in.
So are we at the beginning of the end of vendor lock-in through adopting a common IaaS standard in OpenStack? We might be, but there is a lot of work left to do. Cloud providers claim that their clouds are OpenStack-based, however workloads still cannot move freely between them, as there are differences in how parts of OpenStack are implemented, how they are configured and customized and how the respective APIs are made available. Therefore, moving a complex application environments from Rackspace to HP CloudServices and then to the corporate data center, while part of the OpenStack vision, is still not possible.
Ultimately, OpenStack still is an immature cloud platform with only a basic set of IaaS features. In order for cloud vendors to effectively compete with Amazon’s EC2 or VMware’s vCloud, they must offer features that go beyond core OpenStack capabilities. This could be advanced usage reporting, high availability features, unsupported storage capabilities or more advanced VM image management. These providers follow their natural instinct of providing improved customer value more rapidly than it could be achieved by waiting for the OpenStack code base to catch up. This trend has to stop, before customers can truly enjoy the benefits of workload interoperability and portability.
The OpenStack foundation must make sure that vendors that are marketing their cloud offerings as OpenStack-based, have truly deployed the OpenStack core components, including all standard APIs. The question is, whether there actually is a way of enforcing these requirements. This is a non-trivial challenge that requires strategic commitment by all major vendors that is based on the strong belief that developing a common cloud platform will result in more revenue dollars for everyone. My prediction is that there is nothing that can stop OpenStack, if the interoperability challenge can be overcome and individual vendors can resist their urge to add exclusive features for their customers.
Is OpenStack Ready for Prime Time?
Almost! But not quite yet. The tremendous number of patches that had to be added for Grizzly (about 2,500) clearly validates this opinion. Looking at all of the issues OpenStack adopters encountered with the Folsom release, many of them can be classified as true teething problems. These problems are due to a lack of testing and experience within production environments. While the Grizzly release looks promising, only time can tell how successfully the developer community has addressed each issue. We will know a lot more about the enterprise-readiness of OpenStack when the Havana release goes live this fall.
For customers it is essential to not get blinded by the undeniable momentum OpenStack is currently experiencing. Fact is that the OpenStack codebase is not fully mature yet and workload interoperability and portability are still a vision. Therefore, despite all the hype, adopting OpenStack is still a strategic bet that should not be taken lightly.
Adopting one of the commercial implementations of OpenStack might be a good compromise. IBM’s SmartCloud Orchestrator is an interesting example of a fully featured cloud platform with OpenStack resource orchestration and management capabilities baked in. At the same time, customers benefit from deployment and support services of these vendors, which minimizes the risk of a botched implementation.
In part 2 of this series, I will take a look at the individual commercial distributions of OpenStack and at how VMware fits into all of this.