Happy birthday, OpenStack! Now change

OpenStack turns three this month and some say the project needs to mature

As OpenStack celebrates its third birthday this month, some project backers are reflecting on just how far the project has progressed, while pundits are saying that unless it makes some major changes, there may be less to celebrate in years to come.

Since NASA and Rackspace joined to launch the open source project in the summer of 2010, the promise of OpenStack has been to create a platform for service providers to build public clouds and end users to deploy private clouds that would all be interoperable, creating the hybrid cloud nirvana.

Execution has been “largely underwhelming” in the area of interoperability though, says David Linthicum, a consultant with Cloud Technology Partners. Progress is being made, but a Rackspace OpenStack cloud and those from a host of other providers in the project will not be inherently interoperable. Linthicum is optimistic many of these issues will be worked out, but much of the heavy lifting will be persuading the  big-name players such as HP, IBM, Rackspace and  Red Hat to interoperate.

[MORE OPENSTACK: Does OpenStack need a Linus Torvalds?]

Some believe that if OpenStack wants to remain relevant it needs not only better interoperability within OpenStack clouds, but closer fidelity with Amazon’s public cloud.

“OpenStack has a significant developer and vendor ecosystem but is categorized by a collective prisoner dilemma,” says Simon Wardley, a blogger and researcher at CSC’s Leading Edge Forum in a recent post The Trouble with OpenStack. “Forget fidelity with Amazon there isn't even fidelity between OpenStack distributions.”

While there are calls for closer fidelity with Amazon, some in the OpenStack community seem to have somewhat of a distaste for AWS. Amazon’s cloud is so widely adopted that it’s becoming a default standard in the industry, Wardley says, so it’s imperative for OpenStack to be interoperable with AWS resources.

OpenStack backers defend the project, noting that there is compatibility with Amazon Web Services APIs in the project’s code, which vendors can choose to support. Companies like CloudScaling and Piston Cloud Computing support interoperability with AWS, says Joshua McKenty, one of the founding members of the project who sits on the OpenStack board of directors, while also being CTO of Piston.

The whole idea of OpenStack is that it’s a user-driven project, he says: If users want closer fidelity with Amazon, he’s confident it will be developed by the community. In his experience, Piston’s customers aren’t looking to deploy workloads between their private OpenStack clouds and Amazon’s public cloud; more likely scenarios are that a company may have legacy data in AWS’s Simple Storage Service (S3), and they want their private cloud to be able to access it. That fairly rudimentary functionality is already available.

The bigger point is that McKenty doesn’t want OpenStack to be tied to AWS; that would be severely limiting to the project, he says. The open source project is guided by the users; it’s not just focused on ensuring feature parity with AWS. Other open source projects, like Eucalyptus take that approach.

Despite all the chatter about where OpenStack is on its third birthday, the project is undeniably growing by leaps. It’s been able to stick with a consistent six-month release cycle and has added important features recently such as virtual networking, automation and management controls. Its developer and user conferences are doubling in size each time and increasingly are sharing tales of OpenStack success stories from companies like Comcast, PayPal and the NSA. The upcoming summit in November is set to be held in Hong Kong to tap into the swelling support for the project in the international community. Member companies, meanwhile, are solidifying their OpenStack strategy, with the likes of Red Hat releasing an OpenStack distribution, Rackspace running an entire public cloud offering on the platform and IBM and HP committed to developing and supporting the project.

Part of the debate about interoperability among OpenStack clouds and fidelity with AWS reflects the growing pains of a still maturing project. Many in the community recognize that there are issues that still need to be worked out. And that’s why there are groups like the OpenStack Foundation that are in place to help guide the project. But in the world of IT, there will always be pundits willing to criticize.

Network World senior writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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