OpenStack is on a lot of minds these days. The “free” open-source cloud computing software platform has attracted substantial support since its launch in 2010 as a joint project of Rackspace Hosting and NASA.
Frequently employed as an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), OpenStack’s solution consists of several interlocking “projects” that focus on interrelated aspects of IT to control pools of processing, storage, and networking resources throughout a data center. Users manage their solution through a web-based dashboard, command-line tools, or a RESTful application programming interface (API).
MSPs concerned about the market power of AWS, which has attracted so much business, see OpenStack as a way to level the playing field with a low cost, standard public cloud platform (though, of course OpenStack can also be used to create a private cloud).
A lot of attention has gone to OpenStack Compute (also known as Nova), which is set up to manage and automate pools of computing. It is written in Python and is virtualization friendly as well as configurable to high-performance computing tasks. But there’s much more to OpenStack. For instance it also offers networking capability under the banner of the Neutron API, which can integrate networks into the overall IT infrastructure.
Neutron can take on tasks, such as managing networks and IP addresses, and provides capabilities to both users and administrators relative to networking and control.
Other OpenStack projects include: Object Storage (Swift), Block Storage (Cinder), Dashboard (Horizon), Identity Service (Keystone), Image Service (Glance),Telemetry (Ceilometer), Orchestration (Heat), Database (Trove), Bare Metal Provisioning (Ironic), Multiple Tenant Cloud Messaging (Zaqar), and Elastic Map Reduce (Sahara).
Positives and Negatives
Service providers need to weigh the pros and cons of OpenStack. The most obvious issue is whether you and your organization can function without a big vendor to turn to. With OpenStack, at least for now, users must rely on other users, wikis, and community forums for support. And, that’s a big change.
On the other hand, in comparison to traditional proprietary software, open-source offerings such as OpenStack tend to offer a modular structure which provides a versatile framework that can be adapted to changing business needs.
According to the OpenStack Foundation, “Wide adoption of an open-source, open-standards cloud should be huge for everyone. It means customers won't have to fear lock-in and technology companies can participate in a growing market that spans cloud providers. Companies are already using OpenStack to provide public clouds, support, training and system integration services and hardware and software products.”
What does all this mean at a practical level? Well, a lot seems to have been accomplished in the OpenStack community. But there are naysayers. For instance, Gartner analysts have taken a critical or at least a wait-and-see attitude toward OpenStack. In a Gartner blog, research Vice President Lydia Leong explained her concerns in terms of the maturity of the effort (a year or two behind the actual hype, she reckons) and the cross currents swirling around openness. Users want open and vendors say they want open, but many of them have the parochial perspectives attached to their corner of the industry or their area of focus, so in effect, she says, many of them advocate for a not-so-open-stack.
Similarly, while taking a more upbeat tack, Forrester Analyst James Staten’s recent blog post, drills down into a host of thorny problems yet to be mastered within the OpenStack world. Still, he notes that, “2015 may prove to be the year its use shifts over from mostly test & dev, to mostly production.” So, in short, keep an eye on OpenStack! It may not be the right choice yet but it seems destined to play a growing role in many IT organizations in the years ahead.