Cloud

Growing up: How OpenStack could become the go-to choice for private and public clouds

Above: OpenStack third birthday party last July in Portland, Ore.

Image Credit: Aaron Hockley/Flickr
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Last week’s OpenStack: Breaking into the Enterprise event made one thing clear: the battle for the public cloud is just beginning, and enterprises are starting to see open-source cloud software OpenStack as a worthy challenger.

Today, three and a half years after OpenStack’s inception, it’s easy to forget that it was a defensive move, made at a desperate time. Rackspace needed a weapon to defend against the tidal force of Amazon Web Services. It realized that even as a multibillion-dollar company and a leader in the hosting world, it could not go it alone in the transition to public cloud.

Today, the OpenStack Foundation has more than 200 members, and there is an amazing amount of activity and interest in OpenStack clouds from enterprise customers. At the last week’s event in Mountain View, I was taken aback by some of the deployment stories and plans from companies like PayPal, eBay, Best Buy, and PARC (a Xerox company) to implement OpenStack across enterprise infrastructures. Comcast is running X1 on OpenStack, and IO is using the open-source software to power its public cloud.

I shouldn’t be surprised. Three and a half years in, and the core elements of OpenStack, along with its packaging and distributions, have gotten quite solid. In 2011, my company, Internap, launched one of the earliest commercial OpenStack public-cloud services, and we’ve since seen a wide range of vendors deliver everything from services (such as Solinea) to turn-key products (such as Nebula) around enabling OpenStack.

Generally, these offerings have been related to private-cloud deployments. Contrary to the opinions of the clouderati, this is a very real and viable option for enterprises looking to deploy cloud. The recent attention being paid to OpenStack by the likes of IBM, HP, and Red Hat will almost definitely result in more focus on these lucrative enterprise customers, which will pay big dollars to get even close to the levels of agility and automation of public cloud.

OpenStack can make internal IT — already fearful of disintermediation — into superheroes. These private-cloud deployments could be cause for concern for VMware. Software that costs more than the servers themselves can be a bitter pill to swallow. Public-cloud providers would scoff at the idea of those economics, and enterprises are starting to do the same now that they have real commercial support options for OpenStack at their fingertips.

For public cloud providers, this private-cloud activity just helps to build the overall OpenStack ecosystem. Each OpenStack-based private cloud that is deployed is a future hybrid cloud and an enterprise customer that will appreciate the interoperability that OpenStack offers. These customers will eventually be attracted to OpenStack-based public clouds in the same way enterprises started warming up to Linux and avoiding lock-in.

At last week’s event, former NASA chief technology officer Chris Kemp predicted that eventually even Amazon would support the OpenStack application programming interfaces (APIs). While that sounds provocative, it makes sense, especially if interoperability and openness start becoming more important to consumers of cloud infrastructure.

Raj Dutt is senior vice president of technology at Internap.

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