Ask the IT Consultant

May 5 2012   11:00PM GMT

Openstack – Will the Real Customer Please Come Forward?

Beth Cohen Beth Cohen Profile: Beth Cohen

Question:  There has been much buzz in the IT community about Openstack as the emerging cloud standard.   Just who is the Openstack project designed for?

Not long ago I spent a week in mid-April 2012 at the Folsom Openstack Summit/Conference in San Francisco.  There was much enthusiasm for the project among the 450 developers who attended the development summit portion of the program and even more among the 900 or so developers, product and business development folks who stayed for the two day general conference that followed.  Both from the business and technology perspectives, Openstack has come a long way in just the past six months.  Where it continues to lag was the noticeable lack of real users attending the conference to contribute their voices and valuable guidance.

On the vendor front, Rackspace, of course, continues to be the biggest major supporter overall; but more marquee names have announced their intention to join the fledgling Openstack Foundation including AT&T, HP, Redhat and IBM.  HP’s motivations are clear; it is in the process of standing up one of the largest Openstack public IaaS offerings with the public beta scheduled to go live in the middle of May 2012.  It certainly has the deep pockets and technical wherewithal to successfully go up against Amazon and Rackspace.  IBM’s incentives for supporting the project are less clear, but the company does have a long history of backing open source projects and using their support for their own ends – Linux is a prime example that immediately comes to mind.  The jury seems to be still out for early supporters, Citrix and Microsoft, both of which have not officially committed to the Foundation to date.

Looking at Openstack from the technical perspective, in the 18 months since the project’s inception, it has come a long way towards becoming a viable system that could be used in a production environment.   I would still argue as I did six months ago, that you still need a cadre of systems engineers and dev/ops people to build and support it, but the attendees at the technical sessions I joined recognized the need for better user documentation in general and more ways to engage the operations people who are stuck supporting something that is still pretty rough around the edges.  The frustration from the few end users who were in attendance was abundantly clear.  These people are not developers and don’t have time to figure out the missing pieces.  As one person put it so succinctly, at 2AM trolling through the code is not an acceptable method of troubleshooting a down system.

At the end of the day, Openstack will only successfully be adopted by the enterprise if the real end users, the operations people from service providers such as HP and Rackspace or enterprise customers, step forward and join the technical conversation. Really, who better to set the direction of such an ambitious open source project than the users?  To rectify this situation, I encourage enterprises that are considering an Openstack deployment project to start contributing to the community today and plan on sending their systems operations managers and architects to the next Openstack Design Summit in the fall.  The future is literally in your hands.

About the Author

Beth Cohen, Cloud Technology Partners, Inc.  Transforming Businesses with Cloud Solutions

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