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In VMware vs. OpenStack debate, IT shops seek compromise with VIO

IT shops comfortable with vSphere may be happier staying home when comparing VMware vs. OpenStack to put together legacy and next-generation applications.

The "VMware tax" is a price worth paying for some OpenStack users to help bridge existing and new infrastructure needs.

Enterprise IT customers wary of licensing and lock-in concerns with VMware platforms may be attracted to OpenStack-based alternatives. Some users and analysts suggested, however, there's value in staying closely tied to VMware to leverage frequent and well-supported updates -- including one recently to VMware Integrated OpenStack (VIO) -- to bridge legacy and cloud-native applications.

Isa Berisha, global director for platform engineering at hedge fund administrator HedgeServ Corp. in New York, weighed VMware vs. OpenStack options, including Mirantis, Metacloud and Rackspace, as he felt pressure "to have a next-generation platform online." He originally saw VIO as a pet project for VMware and wasn't sure the company would take it seriously, because it presented issues of co-opetition within VMware.

"We viewed it as we were going back to that same company that was not adjusting with the time," he said.

HedgeServ started working with VIO as a "dark initiative," but the more time Berisha spent with it, he said he saw VIO had taken enterprise practices and product release practices -- and in early 2015, when he was looking, few companies were doing that with OpenStack.

Additionally, VIO only provides support for the ESXi hypervisor, which is seen as a drawback for many IT pros in cost -- but that was a big advantage for HedgeServ, which has "a massive amount of technology depth" in it, Berisha said. ESXi allows users to do anything with the network stack, storage layer and compute layer, he said.

In terms of cost, HedgeServ already had an enterprise license agreement with VMware, which is adjusted each year, and adding VIO premium on top of ESXi licensing keeps OpenStack as an operating expense.

By comparison, he said he didn't see other OpenStack platforms as cheap. A 100% web-scale company that contributes to OpenStack may get value from a truly open source version, but enterprises will always pay for the platform. Most enterprises need to either use in-house resources or pay someone else to provide a layer of support.

"When we did the numbers, our total cost to run a private cloud went considerably down with VIO than going to another platform," Berisha said. "OpenStack is the best thing, as long as you don't have to pay for it," Berisha joked.

Like a motorcyclist: Deciding when to sit or stand

With VIO, VMware combines the maturity of the VMware environment with the agility and heterogeneous support of the OpenStack environment, said Eric Burgener, a research director at analyst firm IDC.

OpenStack is the best thing, as long as you don't have to pay for it.
Isa Berishaglobal director for platform engineering, HedgeServ Corp.

The latest release, VMware Integrated OpenStack 3, based on the Mitaka release, adds a "compact mode" that can be used to help evaluate a small OpenStack cloud for a branch office by allowing users to install the OpenStack control plane on two VMs -- one for OpenStack services, such as Neutron, Cinder, Atlantis and Keystone, and the other for compute driver communications with vCenter, according to Peter Cruz, group manager for product and technical marketing at VMware. It reduces the footprint, decreases the complexity and makes it easier to pinpoint performance degradation, he said.

VIO 3 also adds utilities to automate patching and upgrading. And vSphere, NSX and VSAN are all made available through OpenStack APIs.

Users are generally drawn to VIO because they can apply the OpenStack framework on top of existing in-house infrastructure and tools, as well as make OpenStack APIs available to developers and users in the organization, he said. That helps avoid the problem of building an empty cloud with OpenStack, he said.

"They have an OpenStack framework, but they don't have anything in it and have to rebuild all those VMs for development so they can start to consume and work with it," he said.

Burgener said an old adage from motorcycling applies to private clouds with OpenStack versus a straight vSphere stack: Sit when you can, and stand when you have to for control.

"If you can make OpenStack work in your environment and have the right expertise and functionality, it is a better choice if you want to do it," Burgener said. But many IT shops can't use it everywhere because it lacks maturity and functionality, he said, which necessitates more expertise. "If I'm using straight vSphere, I don't [need expertise]" -- that's the stand part of the motorcycle adage, going to a higher control model.

The biggest advantage Berisha gets from VIO -- which he said is rarely heralded by VMware -- is it eliminates the need for separate platforms for older applications that are still critical to the business and newer ones.

"Very infrequently do you have the luxury of collapsing the two and being able to have both of them on a new-gen platform," he said.

Most enterprises still need the old platform, and it typically takes a while to migrate off it, so they maintain a portion of that legacy environment with systems in place to ensure high availability, while building a greenfield environment for cloud-native and next-generation applications, he said.

"[That] generates a whole lot more technical debt, in essence, for an organization," Berisha said. "We didn't want to do that; we wanted to make OpenStack the primary platform -- period."

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 [email protected].

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