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With pursuit of large-scale public cloud mostly in the rearview mirror, the role of OpenStack in mainstream IT remains an open-ended question as it makes its way into more niche uses.
OpenStack was launched in July 2010 as a much-ballyhooed open source standard for cloud computing. Since then, it has garnered support from vendors and users alike, but its broad community needs and race to keep pace with proprietary offerings have pushed the technology into a host of unforeseen new areas.
These different directions represent both the "attraction and repulsion" of OpenStack adoption for enterprise customers, said Jay Lyman, research manager at 451 Research. The platform's extensibility is what helped it eclipse CloudStack, but it can also translate to some components not being fully formed.
"You want to do private cloud, mobile [and] Internet of Things? There is a path for that with OpenStack, whereas CloudStack has rock-solid cloud management," Lyman said. "But beyond that, there wasn't a whole lot you could do."
One of the latest offshoots has been telcos wanting to push the OpenStack components as the standard for network functions virtualization (NFV). A white paper released by the OpenStack Foundation last month, and backed by industry heavyweights Verizon, AT&T, NTT Communication, SK Telecom and Deutsche Telekom, touts OpenStack as the potential software and automation replacement for traditional network appliances.
"As they continue to bring on new projects -- bare metal, Internet of Things and containers -- they're working to keep that extensibility attractive," Lyman said. "As time goes on, some of these projects that were immature or difficult get easier, so we'll see that with things like NFV, too."
This NFV push comes despite some grumblings last year about competing interests between telcos and enterprise customers. Vendors such as Red Hat and Mirantis, both contributors to the white paper, have tried to create one platform to meet the needs of both, while Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) built a separate carrier-grade offering.
Telcos have emerged as an important user base, as Foundation members see the potential to serve as an emerging standard for a $1 trillion industry.
"A year and a half ago, it wasn't clear exactly how we'd have one stack that meets the need of telecoms. But through a lot of collaboration, this is the year we were going to see 5G demonstrated by multiple telcos based on OpenStack," said Mark Collier, OpenStack Foundation COO.
Many in the community, including telcos and application providers, want OpenStack to be a product or standard platform so they don't have to worry about the underlying infrastructure and can use more of a plug-in model, said Donna Scott, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.
That can create tension, as infrastructure providers see the framework as a driver for innovation and face pressure to maintain a certain speed to keep pace with the public cloud, she added.
While vendors take the technology in disparate directions, the Foundation has changed its governance policies around projects to establish a core set of technologies for things, such as compute, network and storage, while allowing the more experimental projects to remain on their own parallel track, running at their own pace, Scott said.
"There are definitely different needs for different people, but I think they have worked out how to manage it inside the Foundation," she said.
The push to become mainstream
OpenStack has more community involvement than most open source projects, and it also has large-scale customers, such as PayPal and Wal-Mart. It's really the only viable option for stateless, programmable infrastructure to run private clouds, Scott said. Nonetheless, OpenStack adoption is not right for everyone and it's certainly not mainstream, though it will eventually have to be if it wants to remain viable, she added.
"I'm cautiously optimistic it will move to the mainstream within a couple years," Scott said. "Then, there should be enough different and easier offerings that will enable it to grow beyond the tech-heavy companies and banks."
Although public cloud gets more attention lately, private cloud continues to see growth, as Rackspace said its private cloud revenues grew at the same rate as the public cloud market last year -- around 80%.
OpenStack private cloud challenges remain
OpenStack adoption for private clouds aren't without significant challenges. Very few companies have the means to build one themselves, let alone hire and retain the necessary staffing to maintain the cloud. There are fully managed versions, or customers can go with a distribution, but licensing costs are becoming a factor in which vendor they choose, said Lauren Nelson, senior analyst with Forrester Research.
The networking project, Neutron, also continues to be a thorn in the side of many OpenStack users who say it still doesn't work right at scale. Progress has been made and it has seen considerably more traction over the past year, but that's partly because it's one of the core OpenStack projects and must be included in the latest certified offerings, Nelson said.
Questions remain about how quickly it will reach the maturity of the other core projects and if the current architecture can extend to enough use cases, or if structural changes need to be made or replacement projects need to take its place, Nelson said.
And then, there's the perennial question of whether OpenStack is ready for prime time. The reality is more nuanced than a simple yes or no, and part of the problem in answering that is the vagueness of terms such as enterprise, ready and production, and the lack of discussion around specific applications and use cases, she said.
"There's been a long list of applications that are running in OpenStack environments that are enterprise, that are production, even customer-facing production applications," Nelson said. "The better question is: What was done in order to enable that? How much was custom? What did it take to get there?"
In its infancy, OpenStack was seen as a potential open source answer to Amazon Web Services (AWS). That talk has all but died, at least in the U.S., with larger OpenStack vendors such as HPE shutting down its public cloud and Rackspace putting the focus on its private cloud.
But OpenStack backers are quick to note that the technology is a set of tools, and not an actual product. They also balk at any "us versus them" comparison between OpenStack and AWS.
In fact, Foundation members see the monumental growth of AWS as a positive for OpenStack. AWS was a trailblazer and there would be no OpenStack without it, said Boris Renski, CMO and co-founder of Mirantis Inc., based in Sunnyvale, Calif. The transition around IT that AWS started remains in its early stages, and there will be plenty of opportunities for innovation to be pulled along with it, he added.
"The more Amazon, the more OpenStack," Renski said. "A lot of our customers do Amazon and introduce OpenStack as a compliment amid a cultural adaptation to the new style of doing IT."
OpenStack is a community of innovation and different use cases will emerge out of that, including NFV, serving as the back end for mobile and connected devices, Renski said.
"You just have to let the people innovate and let the market define the key areas of value that this creates," Renski said.
Trevor Jones is a news writer with TechTarget's data center and virtualization media group. Contact him at email@example.com.
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