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OpenStack adoption creeps toward corporate acceptance

Four years after OpenStack's debut, many enterprises are still working through integration, upgrade and cost issues.

Small bands of early OpenStack adopters are starting to weave the platform into their IT fabric, but four years after its introduction, many more remain hesitant.

A lack of technical resources to do full implementations, hardened silos stretching across the infrastructure that complicate deployment and, of course, cost, are a few reasons IT pros are hesitant about OpenStack.

"There is a high level of awareness and interest, but I can't think of many users who have actually deployed a full-blown OpenStack environment in production," said Ed Hsu, VMware's director of product marketing for software defined data center suites.

The effort and money needed to integrate OpenStack into the fabric of their IT infrastructure and the process of upgrading are two issues that have deterred some enterprises. Getting OpenStack up and running in the first place is half the battle.

"Just getting it up and cooking for the first time is a challenge for a lot of people, but integration and upgrades are probably two of the larger issues," said Eric Wright, systems architect with Raymond James Ltd., a subsidiary of Raymond James Financial U.S. in Toronto.

Wright, whose current production platform is anchored by VMware's vSphere 5.5 and vCenter 5.5, said he wanted to integrate OpenStack in order to use VMware's orchestration tools, and to create a self-service platform.

IT shops often have admins and development teams not properly trained in Linux-compatible technologies such as OpenStack, said Wright, so companies must spend the money to train them or hire outside experts.

There is a high level of awareness and interest, but I can't think of many users who have actually deployed a full-blown OpenStack environment in production.
Ed Hsu- director of product marketing for software defined data center suites, VMware

"Suddenly, they have a new service offering where they are faced with either building it internally or going outside, and that can be a real ongoing capital cost," Wright added. "It may be free to deploy but it is hardly free to maintain."

Frequent OpenStack upgrades and releases also can be difficult to manage.

"It's a challenge to set it up, maintain and do upgrades every six months," said Al Sadowski, an analyst with New York-based 451 Research LLC. "A lot of organizations don't have the resources to do that, or the time or manpower, so they're increasingly looking for supported products."

Added support for production

Many early OpenStack adoptions have centered on private clouds, but Linux vendors such as Red Hat, SUSE and Canonical Ltd. are adding support to lure enterprises looking to go to production. Cable giant Comcast uses OpenStack for its X1 platform, which connects cable boxes to the company's private cloud.

Comcast didn't provide a figure on how much it uses OpenStack in production, beyond saying it's a top 10 user of the technology and use cases continue to grow, particularly for storage.

The nature of open source and growing support around OpenStack attracted the media company, which is a contributor as well as user, according to Andrew Mitry, Comcast's cloud architect. It also has given Comcast flexibility to plug in software and services in the background without its customers noticing any disruption, he added.

Those who contend OpenStack still shouldn't be used in production are conflating applications built for the cloud and those constructed in traditional virtual machines, Mitry said.

"The ones we're seeing that are not production-ready are drop-in VMware replacements," he said. "I don't think that is a current design goal -- and that's not to say that's not where it's going, it's just not there yet."

OpenStack intrigue grows

Industry backers and analysts continue to see a bright future for OpenStack, but it remains difficult to gauge if the hype matches the reality. The OpenStack Foundation estimates 4 million users visit the site annually, while New York-based 451 Research expects revenue from OpenStack business models to exceed $1.7 billion by 2016 -- a figure that represents impressive growth but still falls far short of industry leaders' expectations.

Even though the OpenStack Foundation doesn't publicly release data on the number of users currently deploying OpenStack in production, a survey of users at the May OpenStack Summit found only 11.7 % of respondents had moved beyond test and development.

Meanwhile, OpenStack adoption barriers have done little to deter developers from releasing a slew of products focused on making OpenStack easier to use.

At its annual VMworld conference last week, VMware released its integrated OpenStack software to help IT shops more quickly deliver developer-based OpenStack APIs and tools compatible with existing VMware infrastructures. Users can spin up an OpenStack cloud that better harnesses workloads from unsecure public clouds.

Mirantis Inc. has more than 100 customers using OpenStack, with 30 added this year alone. Most are large enterprises, including Thomson Reuters, Capital One and DirecTV, according to Adrian Ionel, president and CEO of Mirantis. He acknowledged that production use remains limited, saying most customers are starting with specific, focused rollouts based on use case.

"People want to make sure the technology works and works well, and that it scales and delivers the benefits associated with it," Ionel said.

Many companies are putting OpenStack into data centers to validate ease of use for operations, Ionel said. So far, only about 10% deploy it for production, though that number isn't surprising for such a deep-reaching technology that touches every other piece of data center infrastructure, he added.

"Adoption can't happen with the flip of a switch," Ionel said. "Even when Linux came out, all the things happened gradually until confidence was established, trust was built and then you started to see the exponential adoption, and we're not quite there yet."

There also are continuing signs of the software's gravitational pull on the industry, including the decision by Marten Mickos, CEO of Eucalyptus Systems, to speak at an upcoming OpenStack conference.

The competing open-source brands have had a thorny history, but Mickos sees the potential to contribute to OpenStack. Eucalyptus is the only private cloud vendor compatible with Amazon Web Services, but nearly every major hardware vendor is part of OpenStack.

"It actually is sort of a trading place for ideas and software and innovation," Mickos said. "That's useful for everybody."

But seemingly just like everything else that involves OpenStack, there was a caveat to the newfound appreciation. The software still struggles with complexity issues and requires a big team to build and customize, and some of the negative connotations around the ecosystem have bled into Eucalyptus' business, Mickos said.

"I don't want to go and talk to a CIO, and have them say, 'I don't trust you because I don't believe in open source.' Some people have said it," Mickos said.

Trevor Jones is the news writer for SearchCloudComputing. You can reach him at tjones@techtarget.com.

Ed Scannell is senior executive editor for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization media group. He can be reached at escannell@techtarget.com.

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