The Troposphere

Apr 17 2013   8:04PM GMT

Waiting for the OpenStack “explosion”

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

The differences between the last OpenStack Summit in San Diego and the one held this week in Portland are sizable. San Diego saw about 1300 attendees – here, the number has been closer to 3000, an estimated 2600 to 2800 in all. Instead of function rooms in a hotel, the conference has expanded to fill a convention center. Instead of a gathering of close-knit propellerheads, this Summit has seen new faces with a distinctive corporate air about them.

None of the above has gone unremarked-upon by conference organizers and presenters, of course, not by a long shot. This is “The Year of the User,” according to a keynote presentation by OpenStack Foundation executive director Jonathan Bryce. Tuesday’s sessions were a coming out party for several household name companies that run OpenStack, including BestBuy.com, PayPal, Samsung and Comcast. An HP session Wednesday was entitled, “OpenStack to Enterprise: Boldly go…”

But while the growth of the Summit, as well as the buzz around OpenStack, has been undeniable, the industry remains in an early adopter phase with this technology. The companies presenting Tuesday were impressive and well-known, but note that it was BestBuy.com architects who showed up to present, not the Best Buy enterprise itself. PayPal, too, is a Web company; Samsung, a technology purveyor; Comcast, a service provider.

In other words, OpenStack appears to be in a boat very similar to the one Amazon Web Services (AWS) currently finds itself in, albeit a small fishing vessel compared to AWS’ hundred -foot yacht. In either case, the messaging is all about the enterprise, but scratch the surface, and the product is still all about the cutting-edge Web developer.

Here, then, is where we get into prognostication and fortune-telling: OpenStack may not have taken over the world just yet, but, according to the various vendors, OpenStack Foundation board members and developers I’ve met in my travels here this week, it’s only a matter of time. How could it not happen, they reason, with the backing of most of the IT world’s most powerful vendors? They also hint that there are many more meat-and-potatoes enterprises—the banks, the insurance companies, the manufacturing and energy interests – waiting in the wings to tell their stories soon.

I met with someone yesterday, who argued that there are companies that are willing to do customization work and pick apart open-source software, and there are companies that are only willing to accept vertically-integrated, shrink-wrapped software with the backing of a vendor, and ne’er the twain shall meet. Moreover, this person also argued, the line between those two cuts across enterprise and startup alike, but a majority of what we consider enterprises today falls into the latter camp. Could all this enterprise messaging just be barking up the wrong tree? It’s possible.

The fact is that while we are assured production enterprise OpenStack deployments are out there, nobody really seems to be able to pin down how many there are. An OpenStack survey conducted in March says there are 84 production deployments, and 197 if you include proof-of-concepts and dev/QA.

Meanwhile, there are 180 vendors in the OpenStack Foundation. It’s possible, then, that there are more vendors promoting OpenStack than there are enterprises with it in production today.

Bear with me while I make a sports analogy. When, in an American professional football game, the kicker lines up for an extra point, there is an excellent chance – a 99.9% chance, in fact, in today’s league – that the kick will be good. But TV announcers and referees still wait until the ball has actually split the uprights before calling it so. It may seem pedantic, but amid all this hype, similar restraint would be wise.

The OpenStack team has run out onto the field and gotten into formation. The kicker is in position, and the ball is ready to be snapped, any second now.

It’s not that a victory for this team can’t or won’t happen. But it still just hasn’t happened yet.

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