How OpenStack's Project Navigator aims to steer users' cloud choices

Tapping into data from a range of sources, including user surveys, the new online Project Navigator tool from the OpenStack Foundation is designed to help firms pick through open-source cloud components.
Written by Toby Wolpe, Contributor
OpenStack hopes the Project Navigator will help make sense of the various projects by offering potential users information drawn from a number of sources.
Image: Shutterstock
To help users weigh up the options when designing and configuring their clouds, the OpenStack Foundation today lifts the lid on a new online tool it says will aid that process.

The aim of OpenStack's Project Navigator is to enable firms to make sense of the various component projects, providing details on issues such as the software's level of maturity, the quality of documentation, and the extent of its adoption.

The OpenStack open-source project was started in 2010 by Rackspace and NASA to create components for building public and private clouds on standard hardware.

It is now backed by more than 200 vendors, including Cisco, Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, Oracle, Red Hat, and VMware, with a large developer community working on a range of loosely-coupled projects.

"We have over two dozen different services now that you can put into production based on different OpenStack projects. There's a small number of projects that every cloud uses, or services that every cloud provides - so the compute, storage, networking kinds of fundamental infrastructure-as-a-service pieces," OpenStack Foundation chief operating officer Mark Collier said.

"But there are quite a few projects that give you optional services. Like if you're doing big data, you might want to use the Sahara project. If you're not, then you won't. If you want to automate databases, you might look at Trove. It's good to have options but it can be overwhelming."

OpenStack hopes the Project Navigator will help make sense of the various projects by offering potential users information drawn from a number of sources.

"Being an open-source project, the moment the first idea is proposed, it's not a secret. Users can find out about projects when they're very early on but maybe they don't know how mature they are or they don't know when's the right time to put something into production," Collier said.

OpenStack Foundation chief operating officer Mark Collier: It's good to have options but it can be overwhelming.
Image: OpenStack/Noah Berger

"So we've gathered a lot of data - metadata if you will - about these projects, like how widely adopted they are, how old they are, how good the documentation is. There's a bunch of different criteria. We're putting this all on our website into an area where you can make a more informed decision when designing your cloud."

Collier said the OpenStack Foundation has information it might wrongly assume is common knowledge.

"But we can't fly everywhere and talk to everyone. It makes more sense to distill it down and make it digestible online. It also aggregates information from the user surveys that we do throughout the year, data from the technical committee - a lot of analysis of that goes into the Project Navigator."

The tool's main objective is to put facts in front of people in a digestible way so they can make more informed decisions.

"It's interactive. There are a few different sections of the site. We try to educate people on this idea that there's a core set of services that you're probably going to want in any cloud. Then a whole list of things that are optional," he said. "Then you can point, click and design your cloud based on these projects."

The section covering sample configurations draws on actual data from DataStack's user surveys.

"We can see that most people who run Trove for database-as-a-service also run these other six or seven projects or whatever the data may be. If you have that database use case, you can see how most people have solved it in terms of the recipes, so to speak, of OpenStack components," Collier said.

"It's really data-driven, so we're not really making a judgment call. It's more just a reflection of where the market is. People will want to start there. A lot of times, users will start with a small set of services when they're doing a proof of concept or when they're first getting started and then they'll layer in other services later."

OpenStack wants to replicate online some of the benefits generated by face-to-face meetings provided by, say, an operators' meet-up.

"In real life they meet the people from Comcast or the people from another big user, and they learn from each other. That's really effective in person but we can also do that online. So the data that they provide when they tell us what they're running is a way of sharing their best practices. We expose it back through this type of tool," he said.

The general configurations that the Project Navigator shows do not relate to any specific company. However, the pages will link to relevant cases where they exist.

"It's just, 'Hey, we noticed you're interested in this type of use case. We have these three users doing something. You can learn about what they're exactly doing if you click here'. It's more of a cross-linking of related information, as opposed to a one to one," Collier said.

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