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OpenStack support lifecycle shines longer for mainstream enterprises

Lengthened support lifecycles for the latest OpenStack offerings aim to avoid one of the potholes of OpenStack operations with more stability and reassurance for less Agile workloads.

OpenStack still has a long way to go to win over significant support among mainstream enterprise IT, but longer...

support cycles are another step in the right direction.

Red Hat OpenStack Platform 10 released last week, which incorporates the upstream Newton code rolled out in early October and gives customers the option to buy an extra two years of support on top of three years of standard support, though it may be at an additional charge for certain releases. Longer OpenStack support cycles are a sign of maturity for the cloud platform, and could attract slower-moving enterprises that want stability behind their less Agile workloads.

Red Hat has offered up to three years of support for the past several releases, which was already on the long side for OpenStack. Red Hat's new support cycle is on par with the long-term support versions of Canonical Ubuntu, which are the two longest.

The six-month release cadence of OpenStack was too quick for some enterprise users, so OpenStack distributors are addressing that unease with a longer support cycle. This will also help OpenStack appeal to a broader, more mainstream enterprise audience interested in stability and assurance over bleeding-edge code, said Jay Lyman, principal analyst at 451 Research.

"We've always seen this sort of dual audience for Linux, and now for OpenStack as well," he said.

Many enterprises may not use all five years, but may still want stability and reassurance. Examples include manufacturing companies and enterprises in Japan, where Red Hat Enterprise Linux support runs up to 10 years.

"This definitely comes from customers asking for this," said Gary Chen, a research manager at analyst firm IDC.

Upgrades are a major disruptive event because they often involve manual processes and aren't seamless. In some cases, they may require additional staff or consultants. Fewer upgrades could also ease a pain point for the open source cloud computing platform, which many say is difficult to deploy and operate.

"There's not a real good, clear path for upgrades with OpenStack," said Ryan McAdams, manager of the advanced technology group at call center provider Interactive Intelligence Inc. in Indianapolis. About 30% to 40% of the 10,000 virtual machines he runs across multiple deployments within the company's 15 data centers are on OpenStack. "People go into OpenStack thinking that, when a new release comes out, they can go from release Kilo to release Liberty -- the reality is that it just doesn't work that way."

People go into OpenStack thinking that when a new release comes out they can go from release Kilo to release Liberty -- the reality is that it just doesn't work that way.
Ryan McAdamsmanager of the advanced technology group, Interactive Intelligence, Inc.

Traditional enterprises can't upgrade their infrastructure every year. A more traditional support lifecycle lets them upgrade when needed, but doesn't force them to do it before they are ready, McAdams said.

For his company's upgrade cycle, McAdams built a new pod adjacent to an existing pod running OpenStack, installed the new release on the new pod, and migrated the workloads from the old pod to the new pod during a maintenance window. The new pod later became home to another new release.

"If I had a workload that was really sticky and that I couldn't move easily from one cluster to another, it would be a big deal," he said about the longer OpenStack support cycles. "Those will be very handy for people that are not very Agile with their infrastructure."

The longer support will be available with every third OpenStack release from Red Hat. In addition to the optional longer support cycle, Red Hat OpenStack Platform 10 is the first from the newly redrawn Red Hat teams, which have been organized to deliver the upstream code in eight weeks, down from the usual eight to 12 weeks.

The different lifecycles may actually meet the needs of two separate projects within one organization, said Radhesh Balakrishnan, Red Hat's OpenStack general manager. One project may want access to the latest and greatest OpenStack release for an agile environment with an innovative pace, while another project may be more stable and change infrastructure every 2-3 years.

Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him on Twitter @RBGatesTT or email him at rgates@techtarget.com.

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What is the ideal OpenStack support lifecycle to help your enterprise run its workloads smoothly?
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There are really three issues at play here: 

1) The required upgrade cycle due to feature, function, and security adds and patches 

2) The required support cycle lifespan for enterprises where extended frequency and scope are important considerations from a cost and downtime perspective.

3) The required integration, operational process development, training requirements and costs associated with the upgrades.

Without addressing all three areas, Enterprise OpenStack remains illusory at best.

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