The OpenStack trade-off

Build it or buy it?

Executive weighing pros and cons
Credit: Thinkstock

If you’re considering using OpenStack, then our in-depth feature published today “Is OpenStack ready for prime time?” is a must-read.

Here’s the TL;DR - Practitioners, vendors and analysts say the open source cloud platform is ready for enterprises, but it’s no cake-walk. OpenStack is not easy to deploy and manage. But then again, no private cloud is.

+MORE AT NETWORK WORLD: Status check on OpenStack from May 2015 +

The thing that stuck out to me was this quote from Comcast’s VP of cloud engineering and operations, Matt Haines.

When considering OpenStack staff, you have to ask how you're going to deploy the cloud. Vendors will do it on your behalf--the so-called White Label vendors--and that way the cloud will be vendor supported. In that case, your staff would be minimal, like the size of a VMware team. On the other hand, one very powerful thing is that because it's open source, rather than fight vendors to put in a specific feature, you can do it yourself. Then that goes to the community. But you need the staff that can do that. At the same time, even with our large-scale OpenStack deployment, we have a team of only 20 people. A 20-person team might cost more in-house than a three- or four-person team using a vendor-supplied solution, but it's a trade-off. If you do the latter, you have to pay for licensing. Twenty well-picked people can manage OpenStack deployment. 

This to me is a fundamental decision that users have to make if they choose to use a private cloud: Build vs. buy.

If you want to have control over your private cloud and tune it specifically to your requirements, then you will likely want to hire a team of engineers and build it yourself. Using the open source OpenStack code is one way to do that. You save money on the licensing (because it’s open source), but are spending money on headcount. (In the story, Randy Bias has a breakdown of specific job titles needed to build a private cloud). There are a variety of vendors that will sell you a distribution of OpenStack which can be customized to your own needs. EMC, Red Hat and Mirantis are some, just to name a few.

The other option is to just buy a cloud. It could be much easier, but you lose some control. White-label providers give you an OpenStack cloud out of the box. It’s an opinionated distribution of OpenStack that’s not specifically tuned to your requirements. It comes at a cost of paying licensing fees to use it. But it’s built and ready to go. Cisco’s Metacloud, startup Platform 9 and Piston Cloud Computing all do varieties of this approach.

It’s a tradeoff that you need to make if you’re going to use OpenStack, or a private cloud in general.

And if you don’t absolutely need open source and are comfortable with the public cloud, then Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform and many others will sell you IaaS with the swipe of a credit card as well.

The decision is yours.

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