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Enterprise OpenStack adds users and supporters, but criticisms persist

A lack of open source development support adds to enterprise OpenStack criticism, as the platform inches forward with traditional IT customers and partners.

LAS VEGAS -- OpenStack continues to slowly add enterprise supporters and users, while its critics continue to squawk.

OpenStack supporters and partners proclaim the open source infrastructure as a service is a viable private cloud platform for legacy enterprise workloads. At the same time, the latest OpenStack user survey released last month reiterates sluggish enterprise uptake amid persistent concerns around its complexity and costs.

Among OpenStack's enterprise supporters is Dell EMC, which has partnered with Rackspace -- one of OpenStack's founders -- to offer OpenStack Private Cloud with Dell EMC compute and storage products. And at the recent Dell EMC World event, mixed views about enterprise OpenStack echoed the market's broad disagreement.

As part of a larger organizational directive to move to the cloud, Providence Health & Services is standing up multiple environments in parallel, including OpenStack, along with VMware orchestration tools vRealize Orchestrator and vRealize Automation. The goal is to request and provision a server in 15 minutes, versus the days it takes now to process through multiple teams, according to Paul Anguiano, a Unix engineer at the company.

Anguiano is trying to convince leaders at Providence to move beyond basic orchestration of virtual machines in favor of OpenStack, which he said will give them more power and flexibility. Still, the use of OpenStack and VMware tools is less ambitious than full-on enterprise OpenStack deployment, to make better use of the company's existing tools and skills. "We're not married to OpenStack, it is just up and running," he said.

Providence Health also uses a vendor distribution of OpenStack, and did not consider a managed offering or its own deployment using the raw code. "Rolling your own seemed ridiculous for us; it is just not where we want to be," Anguiano said.

At the same time, OpenStack critics at the Dell EMC event were plentiful and vocal.

I have to admit I was a very big fan of OpenStack, the open source effort to create a virtualized data center; it really didn't pan out.
Andy Bechtolsheimfounder, Sun Microsystems

OpenStack started off with a strong message for cloud-native applications, but newer players in the cloud-native world, such as Docker, Mesos, Kubernetes and Cloud Foundry, have a better story, said Rafael Novo, a principal solutions consultant for applications and cloud computing in Latin America for Dell EMC.

OpenStack is a victim of the "duck effect," he said -- a duck can walk, swim and fly, "but it walks bad, swims bad and flies bad."

The OpenStack community has added container integration through the Magnum project, but OpenStack's sweet spot is in the middle of traditional applications and modern applications, he said. OpenStack can run traditional apps without the need for enterprise-grade capabilities such as high availability at the infrastructure level and load balancing between servers.

Some cloud-native apps can run on enterprise OpenStack, such as modern applications that are not fully cloud-native-compatible and may require some data persistence. But many companies try to stretch OpenStack beyond its limits, he said -- for example, to support for applications that needs to spawn 1,000 virtual machines in two minutes.

Andy Bechtolsheim, the billionaire founder of Sun Microsystems, also joined the chorus of enterprise OpenStack doubters at Dell EMC World.

Participants in a panel session were asked: "Which technologies were you really bullish about that didn't make it or pan out as anticipated?"

"I have to admit I was a very big fan of OpenStack, the open source effort to create a virtualized data center," Bechtolsheim said. "It really didn't pan out."

The bigger issue is that open source development benefits participants but lacks an economic model and revenue to support development, he said. Otherwise, developers will move on to the next big thing, such as artificial intelligence.

"Just getting a whole bunch of people together at a conference and claiming success and saying, 'Here's the roadmap,' that by itself doesn't work," 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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