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Managed OpenStack private cloud gains support vs. roll-your-own

An OpenStack private cloud managed as a service can simplify deployment and operation for enterprises and focus on the benefits of cloud computing, not Linux.

OpenStack private cloud users have started to move out of the kitchen -- less interested in making dinner themselves...

-- and sit in the dining room to await their meal.

It is a shift away from using OpenStack code to get a private cloud up and running on their own. Instead, new products and services have emerged to offer more handholding and even outright management of an OpenStack private cloud.

"To me, it changes the game a lot," said Pier-Luc Baillargeon, cloud operations coordinator at Desjardins, a credit union in Montreal.

A recent partnership that makes Red Hat OpenStack Platform available on IBM Private Cloud caught Baillargeon's attention. He would rather use OpenStack as a service on IBM Bluemix, rather than his current efforts to build an OpenStack private cloud on IBM Cloud.

"We are investing a lot of time setting this up, doing the capacity planning and getting all the processes needed to get this going," he said. "If we can use it as a service on the Bluemix platform there is no real advantage to having a private cloud off premise on [IBM Cloud]."

Such options have emerged because too many vendors provide OpenStack distributions with little differentiation, said Gary Chen, a research manager at analyst firm IDC. In addition to the IBM-Red Hat partnership, Mirantis now offers OpenStack in a "build, operate, transfer" model called Mirantis Cloud Platform. Other OpenStack options delivered as a managed or hosted offering include Cisco Metacloud, IBM Blue Box and Platform9.

This shift signals that OpenStack is complex and expertise is hard to find, and that many companies acknowledge they won't ever fully figure out how to deploy and operate it themselves, Chen said.

IT shops want OpenStack options

Kris Woods, infrastructure services manager at Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) in Columbus, Ohio, built an OpenStack private cloud on 300 Dell R730 servers that are architected for high availability. He has four OpenStack engineers, with additional Rackspace support. This is better than building an OpenStack cloud using raw code -- OpenStack engineer talent is especially scarce in the area where CAS is located, he said.

But Woods also sees the writing on the wall, and that OpenStack as a service could become a better option.

"If it heads in that direction and it becomes commoditized, maybe we will prefer to pay the bill on that utility versus an ownership and depreciation model," he said.

If we can use [OpenStack] as a service on the Bluemix platform there is no real advantage to having a private cloud off premise.
Pier-Luc Baillargeoncloud operations coordinator, Desjardins

CAS built its OpenStack private cloud to expand its core product offerings. A bespoke model with bare-metal servers dedicated to each product was untenable, inefficient and costly, Woods said. He chose an on-premises private cloud because of what he called a data gravity challenge. The company houses its OpenStack private cloud in a single data center, with an internal production cloud and an external-facing private cloud.

The company also uses OpenStack from a Rackspace data center to get a toehold in an off-premises private cloud, in case the momentum continues toward OpenStack as a commodity. He can handle it as a service from an OpEx approach, and if he decides to end it, he'll have no leftover assets to worry about, he said.

Other OpenStack customers echo a desire for more variety in OpenStack consumption models, as seen in the OpenStack Foundation's latest user survey released in late April.

"As a customer, I control how I consume OpenStack -- DIY, distro, on-premises managed service, off-premises managed service, or public cloud," wrote one unnamed user. "This is a great thing because it puts the user in control of the consumption pattern."

Another survey respondent pointed to OpenStack's notorious complexity as the catalyst for these expanded options of a distribution, support contract or a software-as-a-service-type offering.

"[I] would like to see more effort put toward Kolla and Stackenetes-type deployments that lessen the complexity, and ease access to other projects," the user wrote.

OpenStack isn't Linux

OpenStack vendors are also embracing this new model, which transfers more responsibility from enterprise users to the vendor.

Mirantis has shifted from an OpenStack distribution that users download, install and come back to Mirantis to fix problems, to a model that operates a customer's OpenStack environment for at least 12 months before operations are handed off to the customer.

Many of OpenStack's failures stemmed from users' view that OpenStack is similar to a Linux distribution, rather than cloud computing, and they underestimated the process and people changes needed to accomplish that.

Private clouds are "exponentially more complex than operating systems" with additional scalability, reliability and security challenges, said Scott Crenshaw, Rackspace's senior vice president of strategy and product and general manager of cloud, applications and data business at Rackspace, and former leader of Red Hat's Linux, cloud and virtualization business. A Linux distribution and an OpenStack distribution should be viewed very differently but often aren't, which leads to "burn victims" from failed OpenStack deployments, he said.

Enterprises may be wooed by the simplicity of OpenStack as a service, but the value of an open source cloud platform over a proprietary platform isn't lost when OpenStack is managed by a vendor, IDC's Chen said.

The value of open source is still there because it matters whether the software and its APIs are open or closed -- regardless of the provider, 90% of the code will be the same and it will use the same APIs, he said.

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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