Sunday, September 8, 2013

Is OpenStack ready for prime time yet?

For those who've been reading this blog for a while, or who know me, you know that while I've been in the data center business for a long time, that lately I've been focused on storage and backup. However, over the last couple of years I've been watching the infrastructure business change.  What I find interesting is that what's old is new again!

When I first started out in "Open Systems", network, server, and storage was all managed as a single entity. So, here we are again. A "pod" or stack is just network, server, and storage all managed together, as a single entity.  The new wrinkle here is that we also size them as a single entity which provides a number of advantages. But that's for another blog. As a matter of fact, I plan to write a couple of blogs on IaaS/PaaS/SaaS, how to move successfully to "the cloud", and data protection a cloud environment.

In this blog, I want to talk about one of the "stacks" called "OpenStack". The first questions I get asked when I first begin to talk about OpenStack is, what's the difference between a "stack" and a "pod"?  Why is it called OpenStack and not OpenPod? The confusion is quite understandable, since the amount of hype and marketecture around everything having to do with "the cloud", including this topic, is enormous.  As a matter of fact, it's so bad, that some of the terms are, in my opinion, starting to become meaningless.  So I like to start out any discussion of any of these topics with a couple of definitions so that the audience and I are on the same page. According to Wikipedia:

OpenStack is a cloud computing project to provide an infrastructure as a service (IaaS). It is free open source software released under the terms of the Apache License. The project is managed by the OpenStack Foundation, a non-profit corporate entity established in September 2012 to promote OpenStack software and its community.

This begs a definition of IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) again form Wikipedia:

In the most basic cloud-service model, providers of IaaS offer computers - physical or (more often) virtual machines - and other resources. (A hypervisor, such as VMware, Hyper-V, Xen or KVM, runs the virtual machines as guests. Pools of hypervisors within the cloud operational support-system can support large numbers of virtual machines and the ability to scale services up and down according to customers' varying requirements.) IaaS clouds often offer additional resources such as a virtual-machine disk image library, raw (block) and file-based storage, firewalls, load balancers, IP addresses, virtual local area networks (VLANs), and software bundles. IaaS-cloud providers supply these resources on-demand from their large pools installed in data centers. For wide-area connectivity, customers can use either the Internet or carrier clouds (dedicated virtual private networks). 

Note that IaaS can also be implemented in a private cloud (in your data center), or in both the public and a private cloud called a Hybrid Cloud.  This ability to utilize the resources of both a private cloud, and a public cloud, is becoming more and more interesting to large enterprises.  Again, more on this in a later blog where I will talk about the economics of "cloud".

OK, so enough of laying the groundwork.  Let's talk about OpenStack, and see of we can answer the basic question, is it ready for "prime time"?  Can I use it in the enterprise to implement my private cloud IaaS infrastructure? The answer is, maybe. Let's talk about it a bit.

First, clearly the interest in OpenStack is definitely growing, and growing quickly. You can see this by looking at the attendance of The OpeStack Summit which started out life with a $15,000.00 budget, and 75 people were basically coerced to go. The most recent OpenStack Summit had a $2 million budget and over 3,000 attendees. So, clearly, interest is up, but no where near the kind of interest that VMware has managed to get. The most recent VMworld had over 23,000 attendees.  So, no doubt, lots of interest. But what's driving the interest? Obviously, cost is a big consideration. Since OpenStack is open source, the cost of implementing it is significantly lower than for any of the commercial software out there.  But are there hidden costs that perhaps make it not as good a "buy" as perhaps one might think at first blush?  the short answer to that is "yes", just like it is with any open source software. Things like support costs as well as the cost of finding/training staff, etc. all add to the TCO of any open source solution, including that of OpenStack.

But lets talk about OpenStack itself a bit.  One of the things that I think was holding back OpenStack was the difficulty of deploying the solution.  However, this is rapidly being address by software such as Canonical's Juju. There are also a number of companies that provide IOpenStack based solutions such as Pistson OpenStack.  Piston provides a turn-key OpenStack solution that includes:

The other way we can tell if anything is ready for prime time is if we look at existing adoption of the technology. A year of two ago, there were almost no enterprise implementations of openStack outside of some service providers such as Rackspace, as well as NASA.  This has changed, companies such as Bloomberg, Comcast, and Best Buy have all implemented OpenStack. 

At the most recent OpenStack Summit Bloomberg CTO Pravir Chandra, one of several company executives who detailed their real-world experience with the platform at the summit, said his team set a high bar for OpenStack. Bloomberg’s goals included capabilities such as high availability, no cascading failures, and smooth scale down and scale up. As described in GigaOM:

"They were able to get there by deploying OpenStack along with considerable custom work of their own, both above and below that layer. They ended up setting up the high-availability databases and figuring out how to aggregate logs from the hypervisor level."

A story about Best Buy in ITWorld describes as "the poster child for organizations that can benefit from the cloud." The online retailer built an internal cloud on OpenStack that the company says speeds up the ecommerce site, allows faster development cycles, and scales.

For example, at the beginning of the Christmas shopping season last year, saw a spike of eight times its normal traffic, Joel Crabb, chief architect, told ITWorld. "If that doesn’t scream out for elastic scaling, I don’t know what does."

OpenStack also dramatically cut costs for Best Buy, company executives told summit attendees. Director of eBusiness Architecture Steve Eastham said past releases of the website cost about $20,000 to provision a single managed VM. With OpenStack, he said, the company is spending around $91,000 per rack.

So I think that it’s still an open question about how OpenStack will ultimately stack up against Amazon Web Services in the public cloud infrastructure sector and VMware in the (mostly) private cloud market, where legacy applications are in play. But OpenStack evangelists like Rackspace CTO John Engages are gearing up to bring their solutions to enterprise customers. In an interview, he told Ryan Cox:

The enterprise community is thirsty for the cloud and that ball will soon drop. The opportunity to innovate in open source with OpenStack is one that the legacy solutions in enterprise will soon be eaten. Mobile devices, Big Data, your and my Internet of Things … access to all of these through infrastructure that can scale quickly at low cost is a common theme we’re hearing at the OpenStack Summit 2013.

So, back to our original question, is OpenStack "ready for prime time"?  I think that the answer is, maybe. If you're looking to build a private cloud infrastructure, I think it's a ready option. If you're looking for a hybrid solution, it's a bit less clear, but it's certainly possible.

Let me know what you think in the comments. I'm particularly curious if our involved in a OpenStack deployment.