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OpenStack vs. VMware battle set to heat up over IoT, NFV

OpenStack and VMware are both popular options for private cloud deployment. But depending on the adoption of new technologies, like IoT and NFV, OpenStack could soon have a leg up.

Any journey is a combination of where you start and where you want to go, and this is a critical component of the OpenStack vs. VMware debate. Enterprises have been using VMware for years but other IT vendors that work with those enterprises have committed to OpenStack. The outcome of the tug-of-war between VMware and OpenStack may depend on two emerging applications of the cloud -- network functions virtualization and the Internet of Things.

Virtual resources create a new level of complexity for data center operations teams. Traditionally, many companies installed and integrated their applications manually, or relied on simple operating system scripting languages. But if you have to deploy applications to a resource pool, simple scripts leave too much room for configuration errors. Enterprises now rely on DevOps tools for agile deployment support. These tools have typically been neutral in the OpenStack vs. VMware cloud war, because they can support either environment.

NFV could shake up the OpenStack vs. VMware battle

A few years ago, network operators began work on a set of specifications to enable cloud hosting for networking features -- a concept known as network functions virtualization (NFV). At some levels, NFV seems nothing more than cloud applications translated into network features, and nearly all NFV implementations use cloud deployment tools as their interface to resources. Because OpenStack is open source, it has been favored in the NFV space, to the point where nearly all the major NFV implementations and most trials and tests have used it. VMware, in contrast, was a bit late in developing an equivalent level of NFV support.

NFV is a highly reliable and agile form of cloud computing, designed to support millions of tenant services and to automate deployment and management processes to control costs.

Hosting network features could be the largest source of new data center deployments in the next five years. And, if OpenStack plays a role in most of them, it could build an enormous lead in new cloud deployments. If network operators use these same NFV data centers to offer public cloud services, then OpenStack-based private clouds could become easier to hybridize, making OpenStack stronger in the enterprise market.

NFV is a highly reliable and agile form of cloud computing, designed to support millions of tenant services and to automate deployment and management processes to control costs. Both public cloud providers and enterprises are interested in these capabilities. As a result, some NFV tools and features could filter over to the enterprise, and if these tools are designed for OpenStack rather than VMware, it could further promote OpenStack deployment.

The impact of IoT on the OpenStack vs. VMware debate

The Internet of Things (IoT) is another trend that first will impact network operators, creating new platforms and tools that might then transfer to the enterprise. IoT has two components: one that connects sensors and controllers, and another that converts sensor and controller data into a format convenient for secure application access. This second component is likely to look like a big data repository, and the applications that provide process control, vehicle/traffic control and mobile contextual services based on location will all look like cloud applications or NFV functions.

Most enterprises use cloud computing today for public cloud services, and as an extension of data center virtualization and hosting. The applications they build in the cloud are closely related to the Web and front-end technology applied to traditional data center applications. While these applications don't create a new paradigm, IoT would. IoT applications distribute both data and processing dynamically, redefining workflows and optimizing worker productivity. And, since workflows and productivity are both critical to the enterprise, IoT platform technology is likely to percolate into enterprises' data centers and their public cloud plans.

IoT has two components: one that connects sensors and controllers, and another that converts sensor and controller data into a format convenient for secure application access.

OpenStack is a leading option for IoT platforms. Many network operators have committed to open source, which, in terms of cloud computing, often means OpenStack. NFV is likely to further influence operators to use OpenStack for IoT because the IoT applications would look very similar to network functions.

Network evolution in both the enterprise and network operator markets has spurred the OpenStack vs. VMware battle more than technology has. If network operators adopt NFV quickly and deploy large NFV resource pools, it will accelerate OpenStack deployment and enrich its features. However, if NFV fails to develop quickly, then enterprise virtualization may drive hybrid cloud adoption, and VMware has a good chance of retaining or even enhancing its position. Only time will tell.

Next Steps

Choosing between VMware and OpenStack for private cloud

Building a hybrid cloud with OpenStack and AWS

How to tell if OpenStack is right for you

This was first published in March 2016

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