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How to tell if OpenStack infrastructure is right for you

Your data center may -- or may not -- need a flexible open-source cloud. Is your facility ready to handle the infrastructure overhaul of storage and hardware?

Every major IT vendor wants to convince data center administrators that their infrastructure isn't up-to-date without cloud. But do you really need cloud to be considered modern? And what kind of cloud?

Cloud computing offers a maximum amount of versatility on servers. Deploying a server in a cloud environment is easy because it is automated. System administrators are no longer needed for the install. Instead, the user can automatically deploy one within minutes.

OpenStack is an open source cloud infrastructure. It has origins in the Linux kernel for operating systems, but doesn't just fit Linux apps. An OpenStack infrastructure is open enough for integration with other platforms, such as Windows.

Integration happens at two levels. At the lower level there are the compute nodes, which are the servers that host VMs -- known as instances. In OpenStack infrastructures, compute nodes can be anything: Linux, Windows and VMware vSphere platforms, for example. And at the upper level are the instances that need to be deployed for end users. Any OS can be rolled out using OpenStack at this level as well.

Do you need it?

If your data center needs cloud, be prepared for complex modifications to the IT infrastructure. You won't just install a few servers and have a cloud; you'll have to redesign essential parts, such as storage and networking.

Storage and networking need to be more flexible when you move to cloud. To obtain the maximum freedom, implement software defined storage, which provides easily expandable storage volumes. You'll also need software-defined networking to define subnets that allow instances to behave as if they are in the same physical subnet, even if they're not even in the same data center.

The software-defined aspects of the cloud make implementation difficult, so start working on cloud deployment only if necessary -- typically when the data center's end users need the flexibility to deploy servers easily. A cloud often isn't very useful in an organization where strict procedures have to be followed before servers are enrolled. Your organization must be user driven, and have a culture where the user decides when they need a new server.

OpenStack infrastructure or something else?

OpenStack is one of the most important cloud schemes, and most major IT vendors are involved with it, as evidenced in HP Helion Rack and VMware Integrated OpenStack. But the right cloud deployment platform depends on your environment. OpenStack works well in a Linux data center with skilled IT staff. In companies where this isn't in place, consider an alternative cloud option, such as VMware vCloud Air or Microsoft Azure. For example, implementing an OpenStack infrastructure in an all-Windows data center doesn't make much sense -- Microsoft Azure will integrate without as much effort.

There are two reasons to choose OpenStack for a data center deployment: Every major IT player integrates its solutions with OpenStack, meaning you'll have the freedom to choose the best cloud offering without vendor lock-in; and OpenStack is free. You don't have to pay to create a cloud platform that hosts thousands of instances. Much like Linux server OSes, there are enterprise OpenStack services such as Ubuntu Cloud or Red Hat OpenStack available as well, which means you can purchase the support contracts needed in corporate environments.

About the author:
Sander van Vugt is an independent trainer and consultant based in the Netherlands. He is an expert in Linux high availability, virtualization and performance. He has authored many books on Linux topics, including
Beginning the Linux Command Line,Beginning Ubuntu LTS Server Administration and Pro Ubuntu Server Administration.

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