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OpenStack hopes extensible Essex attracts larger IT shops

OpenStack delivered Essex, the fifth version of its cloud OS, with a raft of features for enterprises. Are they enough to lure large IT shops?

Hoping to boost its appeal to larger IT shops and high-performance computing environments, open source project OpenStack released a more extensible and “pluggable” version of its cloud OS.

Essex contains 150 new features including the first full release of the OpenStack Dashboard, which allows admins to access, provision and automate cloud-based resources through a self-service portal; OpenStack Object Storage, which tightens cloud security with its ability to expire objects in accordance with document retention policies; and OpenStack Compute, code-named Nova, which ties together the product’s dashboard and identity features.

“Two of the biggest themes we are striking that encapsulate all these features are extensibility and plug-ability,” said Jonathan Bryce, chairman of the OpenStack Project and co-founder of Rackspace Cloud. “One of those features is the re-architected dashboard that allows users to manage OpenStack using a Web-based interface. You will see many more plugins (for the dashboard) coming from companies that will offer added capabilities like monitoring and server management tools,” Bryce added.

Another project in the works, called Quantum and expected to be in OpenStack’s Folsom release this fall, is also designed to appeal to larger shops. Quantum is an automated networking management system that allows admins to set up virtual LANs and incorporate hardware from a number of top-tier companies, including Cisco, according to Bryce.

Enterprise IT plays waiting game with OpenStack 
While OpenStack is beefing up the product’s enterprise-class features, some industry observers note the technology has yet to achieve widespread use among larger shops. They feel it won’t be ready for deployment in production environments for another year or two.

I can see [OpenStack] being used more tactically by people interested in open clouds and [IT shops that] want something cheap. It should catch on there.

Eugene Lee, senior systems administrator with a large bank in Charlotte, N.C.

“I have talked to people using it, but most tell me they think it is 18 months away from [use in] production environments,” said Bill Claybrook, president of New River Marketing Research. “They don’t think it’s ready for serious cloud computing applications.”

Some users are also holding off on deploying OpenStack in their shops, but do see its short-term value among shops with more experience of open-source products and technologies.

“I can see [OpenStack] being used more tactically by people interested in open clouds and [IT shops that] want something cheap. It should catch on there,” said Eugene Lee, a senior systems administrator with a large bank in Charlotte, N.C. “I wouldn’t move it out of the niche we use it for now, but I like the direction they are moving in with some of the new features.”

What could potentially stall OpenStack’s acceptance is the recent decision by Citrix, a top-tier cloud provider, to discontinue contributing cloud-based software to OpenStack. Instead Citrix plans to devote more time and energy to its CloudStack offering. Citrix purchased, along with CloudStack, last year.

“It appears Citrix has decided to get out of the OpenStack group and will be more oriented toward,” Claybrook added. “Clearly, they are not pinning their hopes on OpenStack.”

With Essex, however, Bryce said it had a record 200 developers representing 55 different companies contributing code to the project, which helped kick the product “up to the next level.” The community also built in more quality assurance time to ensure the large number of technical contributions all worked smoothly.

“One of the things we decided to do was change the release cycle, so we did a features freeze earlier, which gave us another six weeks to do more testing and integration work,” Bryce said.

Besides OpenStack Object storage, there are several other new storage features that were contributed, including one from startup SolidFire, which produces high-performance storage arrays. The company integrated its product with Essex, which allows admins to connect virtual machines (VMs) to its storage arrays.

NetApp also added support for its core products, which Bryce sees as providing some momentum for the product in large shops.

“MercadoLibre, the eighth largest e-commerce site in the world, and a big NetApp user, runs between 6,000 and 7,000 VMs on top of OpenStack,” Bryce added. “Now [the company] and others can make use of their NetApp investment and connect it directly to the OpenStack cloud computing infrastructure."

Ed Scannell is Senior Executive Editor for SearchCloudComputing.comand He can be contacted at

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