Ask the IT Consultant

Oct 11 2011   12:00PM GMT

OpenStack – An emerging cloud IaaS standard

Beth Cohen Beth Cohen Profile: Beth Cohen

Question: When will cloud computing have standards so that more companies will feel comfortable implementing cloud architectures and using cloud services without feeling locked in?

Cloud computing is finally maturing as a technology.  After many false starts and the proven success of proprietary products and solutions such as Amazon and VMWare, the Open Source community is finally coalescing to devote its considerable resources and energy to the long recognized need for cloud computing standards.  OpenStack, with close to 6000 contributors and over 100 companies backing the project, including such giants such as Dell, Rackspace, Citrix, HP and NetApp, it is one of the fastest growing Open Source initiatives ever undertaken.  The project just celebrated its first year (well actually 14 months, but who’s counting) anniversary.  At the recent OpenStack Conference it was announced that the initiative has been spun out of Rackspace and officially organized as an industry standards organization similar to the Linux Foundation.  What that means is still open to definition; see Andy Oram’s recent blog at OpenStack Foundation requires further definition for more on that.  However, it is a positive sign that the OpenStack community is serious about keeping the technology available to any and all who want to create software and tools that support real cross platform IaaS cloud integration.

For a project that is just over a year old, there is already plenty of exciting work to show for the effort.  Following the Diablo release, the Essex Release Developers Summit held in Boston October 3-7, 2011, was where 250 hardcore developers, product managers and movers and shakers in the OpenStack community met to brainstorm the roadmap for the Essex release scheduled for April 2012.  There are plenty of opportunities to create the architecture and the tools to make OpenStack enterprise ready, but it will not be an easy or trivial task to do it.  There are already some shiny new companies who have the attention of the venture community.  Piston Cloud Computing, founded by several luminaries from the OpenStack Project, including former NASA Nebula Chief Technical Architect Joshua McKenty, and former Rackspace technologist Christopher MacGown, was launched with $4.5M in funding with no customers or product.  While these folks have solid credentials, can we say there might be more than a hint of another Dotcom bubble here?

From the technology perspective, there is considerably less hype and more meat to the project.  Led by Rackspace, with considerable support from plenty of others, the development of the two main OpenStack components, the compute engine code named Nova and the object store code named Swift are moving along quickly.  Integration of the Keystone authentication engine, the Glance image library management tool and other necessary elements, such as a more professional GUI Dashboard are planned for the upcoming release.  There seems to be general agreement in the community that Essex development will primarily be focused on making the components robust enough for enterprise production environments.

Speaking of production deployments, sitting in on the OpenStack deployment panel at the conference was interesting.  Yes, there are already some OpenStack deployments in full production, most notably at Rackspace.  For companies without a deep bench of very senior Linux systems administrators and DevOPS engineers who are happy mucking with syslogs to draw on, OpenStack does not yet have the tools and ecosystem in place to support a deployment managed by mere mortals.  That does not mean that companies should not be looking at it seriously now, because the tools are coming very fast.  There are already offerings from Rightscale, Cloudscaling and StackOPS, to name just a few.  With the solid Swift and Nova components that are already at least partially built, the foundation is already there for entrepreneurs to build the tools needed to make the technology production ready by early next year.  The time to start planning for a production deployment is now.

About the Author

Beth Cohen, Cloud Technology Partners, Inc.  Moving companies’ IT services into the cloud the right way, the first time!

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