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Jumping ship from VMware to OpenStack private cloud

While some IT shops use both VMware and OpenStack for private cloud, others -- especially larger organizations -- are going all-in with the open source option.

VMware and OpenStack are often portrayed as competing technologies for private cloud. And while the two technologies can actually complement each other, some organizations are choosing to migrate from VMware to OpenStack private cloud.

Let's look at how organizations can use the two technologies together -- either in the long term, or as a stepping stone toward a fully OpenStack-based cloud.

First, it's important to remember that OpenStack is not a hypervisor. It supports most hypervisors through abstraction layers, which opens up great opportunities to use its automated orchestration capabilities.

One concrete example brings this home. Intel IT implemented a large private cloud in 2010 based on VMware and a separate OpenStack cloud that supported KVM and Ceph. Intel's model has evolved so that OpenStack orchestrates the two environments, with Intel's custom automation set aside.

In 2014, Intel's IT hosting organization handled 8,000 manual service requests with 190,000 hours spent waiting for completion. By the end of 2016, Intel expects to handle 90% of those manual requests instantly and automatically because of its new cloud model -- and that's a huge savings.

Most major distributions of OpenStack support ESXi and the use of VMware tools. This can lead to complex, multi-cloud and multisite operations that use vSphere and vMotion to support mission-critical applications.

Intel's approach was for VMware and OpenStack to coexist, but there are situations where companies want lower-cost hypervisors, such as KVM, combined with the benefits of OpenStack orchestration.

What to know before moving from VMware to OpenStack private cloud

Migration from VMware to OpenStack is still relatively rare, given the investment many companies have in VMware. But the fact that migrations are occurring -- and occurring successfully -- is getting some attention in the VMware base.

Some companies take an approach similar to Intel's. They carve out a piece of their workload that will sit well, for example, on KVM, and then place that segment on OpenStack. With experience, more of the operation falls over to OpenStack. Then, the company needs to make a key strategic decision: keep its VMware environment for mission-critical workloads, or migrate completely to OpenStack.

The well-publicized OpenStack migration case studies, such as those for eBay, Comcast and Walmart, tend to be very large enterprises. That's because the migration process is complex and requires new resources. Additionally, OpenStack features are still evolving, especially those for high availability, storage and monitoring. This accounts for the hybrid OpenStack-VMware model, as organizations use well-understood features in VMware to cover OpenStack gaps.

Common models for a VMware-to-OpenStack migration include:

  • Coexistence of both cloud environments and vSphere -- like Intel's use case above;
  • Portability across both VMware and OpenStack resource pools, using different clouds for certain parts of the application lifecycle; and
  • Complete migration to OpenStack.

With most larger companies deploying a mashup of these models, using OpenStack management to bridge resource pools seems like a good first step. This is what Intel has done as a step on its journey toward portability and user control over resources.

Logically, the next step is to create a portable app structure that allows apps to migrate across pools. Apply this model to new applications and, selectively, to existing applications, based on whether they should migrate or be replaced.

Whatever the endpoint -- a migration completely away from VMware, a partial transition that leaves VMware tools running with OpenStack for mission-critical applications, or possibly just OpenStack controlling a VMware pool of resources -- this is a journey that should take several years, with plenty of sand in the sandbox.

Next Steps

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