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Explore OpenStack management options for private cloud

IT pros face a variety of options when it comes to managing OpenStack -- and those options vary, depending on whether they take a DIY or vendor-supported approach.

When it comes to best practices for managing an OpenStack private cloud, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. For some organizations, it will make more sense to go with an OpenStack distribution vendor and proprietary tools, while others will choose to deploy and manage the platform themselves. Either way, it's important to have an OpenStack management strategy for private cloud.

Efficient OpenStack management starts with deployment choice

The value proposition for a hosted OpenStack service lies in not having to create the infrastructure for an OpenStack cloud. IBM Blue Box is a typical example, but Mirantis and others also offer this hosted service. This approach eliminates the steep OpenStack learning curve, and reduces the risks of operational delays. The drawback to this hosted model, however, is vendor lock-in, and hosted OpenStack deployments may be more expensive both short- and long-term. Prior to signing up, conduct an ROI analysis.

Semi-proprietary OpenStack distributions also carry cost and lock-in risks, but likely reduce the time it takes organizations to become operational with an OpenStack private cloud. Rackspace, for example, allows users to have an OpenStack private cloud in-house -- which can also help with data security concerns -- while offering management as a service. OpenStack and Red Hat are teaming up to extend this approach, especially for enterprise support. Rackspace will manage Red Hat OpenStack private clouds, bringing a mature support infrastructure to a more open OpenStack distribution. Metacloud offers a similar service.

The DIY approach

What if you want an in-house OpenStack installation with maximum flexibility? The answer for some IT teams, especially larger ones, is to invest in the expertise to make and maintain a Do-It-Yourself OpenStack private cloud.

To build an OpenStack private cloud from scratch, admins have to come to grips with management, from installation and initial tuning to automated node management and instance orchestration. The basic toolkit for OpenStack is open source code from the 30 or so major projects in the OpenStack family.

To build an OpenStack private cloud from scratch, admins have to come to grips with management, from installation and initial tuning to automated node management and instance orchestration.

These projects cover a lot of IT territory, but most are still unrefined and lack ease-of-use. For IT teams, these projects can be also be error-prone and time-consuming to set up and operate. OpenStack control is command-line interface oriented, making it attractive to old-school admins, but good practice now leans toward a scripting system based on well-tested templates.

OpenStack's toolkit provides many of the services admins need to manage a private cloud. The Horizon dashboard is a mature project that gives a great deal of visibility into the cloud cluster. Ceilometer is a new OpenStack tool for both usage tracking and billing, and also provides alarm reporting across the whole OpenStack suite. Murano provides a catalog of validated apps and images, while Congress tackles governance. However, Ceilometer and Murano rate only 2 out of 8 on the maturity level, according to OpenStack's Project Navigator page -- so there is a way to go.

Tools such as Red Hat's CloudForms automate the provisioning of services, and manage their lifecycle. Handling chargeback, CloudForms can also monitor OpenStack resource usage and optimization. An alternative tool is Cloudyn, which provides both monitoring and conformance to governance policies.

The OpenStack community is developing Fuel, the quasi-official OpenStack management module. This GUI-based tool offers capabilities for hardware discovery and configuration, cluster building and ongoing checks and monitoring. Fuel is also designed to avoid vendor lock-in.

For an IT shop that wants to avoid the usual baby steps of a small configuration in a sandbox, Mirantis bundles Fuel into an OpenStack distribution package, which is offered with optional hardware. This is advertised as a zero-lock-in alternative and comes close to being turnkey, but is agnostic.

Getting quizzical with open source cloud computing

An apple on the teacher's desk won't help you with this open source cloud quiz, which includes facts on OpenStack, Docker, Hadoop and more. Test your knowledge to see where you stack up.

OpenStack management software needs to address rapidly evolving IT environments. Within a couple of years, most shops will use software-defined infrastructure at some level, as it significantly increases agility and lowers costs. Any planning today has to take software-defined infrastructure into account, which implies looking at cluster managers, such as StrataCloud or Mirantis.

The bottom line on OpenStack management is that we have alternative approaches and a rich ecosystem of tools at various levels of maturity. This makes navigating choices a challenge, but building an OpenStack private cloud is much less daunting than it was even two years ago.

Next Steps

Five questions to ask before OpenStack adoption

Beat the toughest OpenStack security challenges

OpenStack scalability still a hurdle for IT teams

Dig Deeper on Open source cloud computing