OpenStack from Austin to Zed

OpenStack has come a long way from its first release to its latest as it has matured from a private cloud to a multi-purpose cloud for any and all purposes.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
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A dozen years ago, people still had trouble getting their heads around the concept of a cloud. The joke that a cloud was just someone else's computer was still popular and already fundamentally wrong. Even Larry Ellison, Oracle's CEO, sneeringly called cloud computing simply the latest fashion. Some people knew better. Among them were NASA Ames Research Center and Rackspace, developers who'd independently come up with the idea for an open-source cloud. Today, we call that cloud OpenStack.

The Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud, Amazon Web Services (AWS) ancestor, was already around, and Microsoft launched Azure in February 2010. But even though these depended on Linux and other open-source programs, they were proprietary platforms. The Ames team wanted NASA to host and manage its own computing and data resources. They didn't have the resources to do it on their own, though.

At the same time, Jonathan Bryce, Rackspace co-founder, and the future OpenStack's executive director, was working on their own open-source cloud project. Then, Bryce said in an interview, "we met these folks at NASA, and that went really well. So, we flew out to Moffett Field (Ames main campus) and spent a whole day with them. The whole time everybody was just sitting there nodding because we were rebuilding our stuff in Python. They were using Python.  We picked the Apache 2 license. They picked the Apache 2 license. So, we were, 'Yes, we have to join forces!'"

Also: OpenStack cloud sees explosive growth

And they did. The first OpenStack release, Austin, appeared in October 2010. Besides creating OpenStack, this would be the first time government-funded software had been released under an open-source license. Bryce also recalled it was "a bit different than how open source had been approached. For the most part, open-source projects were a collaboration among people who were trying to scratch their own itch or open-core projects where a single company built an open-source project heart, but all the extras were proprietary, and they owned the entire monetization process."

With OpenStack, Bryce continued, "We wanted open-source software to be a key enabler of not just our business, but everyone's business. So from the beginning, we were really interested in having a big ecosystem of folks coming together to build it all." 

So, from its very first days, OpenStack had many companies investing in it and sharing the open-source wealth. Early members, who are still with it today, include Dell, Cisco Mirantis, and Red Hat. With thousands of developers, OpenStack is the third most popular of all open-source projects. 

Within a few years, OpenStack's popularity exploded. HP, IBM, Red Hat, VMware, and many other tech powers threw their support behind OpenStack. As Jim Curry, then Rackspace's SVP of Strategy and Corporate Development, said, "A couple of things came together. First, cloud technology and its form factor was hitting an infraction point. After several years, Amazon Web Services was just moving into the mainstream, and people were looking not just for an open-source alternative, but for any AWS alternative."

It was more than that, though. Bryce explained, "We had laid the groundwork, built the community, and gotten the software to a point where its market ecosystem really started to go crazy," It was being used for almost everything you could use a cloud for.

Then, Bryce continued, "One of the most interesting and kind of unexpected technology turns happened. The telecom industry really started to engage with OpenStack. When we started OpenStack, we were thinking about data center software for distributed storage." But starting in 2014, Software Defined Networks (SDN) and Network functions virtualization (NFV) would start running the backbones of cellular networks.

OpenStack has become the telecom default cloud. Companies such as Verizon Mobile and China Mobile use it to replace older, slower switching systems. 

At the same time, OpenStack was being used in what its creators first dreamed up for it. Bryce continued, "There are 40 million cores deployed in OpenStack environments. That's everything from airlines, automobile manufacturers, financial services, government agencies, and private, hybrid, and public clouds." 

For example, in Europe, OpenStack is used as the foundation for public clouds  These include hyperscale clouds from Deutsche Telekom/T-Systems, Cleura Public Cloud, and OVH Public Cloud. Then, there are unusual public clouds. One of the most entertaining is OneQuode. This is a Pacific Ocean-based cloud provider that specializes in delivering low latency and high-speed gaming to customers from Korea to San Francisco and the islands in between. 

Besides this, OpenStack users kept exploring new use cases. For example, Bryce said, "TensorFlow came along, and now OpenStack is used for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. And, it's also being used for transcoding video at the edge so [people can watch 4k videos on their phones. So yeah, innovation never stops."

In addition, other important projects have sprung from OpenStack. These include Airship, a cloud-provisioning system; Kata Containers, lightweight, container-like virtual machines (VMs); StarlingX, an edge cloud stack; and Zuul, a continuous integration/delivery (CI/CD) program.

Now, OpenStack, under the guidance of the OpenInfra Foundation, has its latest release Zed. The highlights of this release are a new interface, Skyline; better security, always an OpenStack strong point; Venus, a log aggregation service; and more hardware support.

Skyline will replace the Horizon interface, which has gotten a little long in the tooth. Skyline replaces Horizon's AngularJS JavaScript framework, with the ReactJS framework.

For security, the key new feature is that its Keystone authorization service now supports OAuth 2.0. In addition, you can now move encrypted storage volumes across projects. Before this, you could only shift unencrypted volumes. 

Looking ahead to the next release, OpenStack Antelope, OpenStack will deploy a new release cadence that goes by the amusing name Skip Level Upgrade Release Process (SLURP). With SLURP, OpenStack will still have two releases a year. But, one release will be for long-term support, while the other will contain more experimental, short-term, code. With this, OpenStack users won't feel the need to be constantly updating their codebases.

OpenStack remains the most popular open-source cloud for private, hybrid, and public clouds. Today, you'd be hard-pressed to find a use case that you can't use OpenStack for. It really does do pretty much everything. True, some early supporters, such as SUSE, have left OpenStack, but others, such as Red Hat and Mirantis, remain loyal OpenStack supporters.

If you want to run your own cloud your own way, for any job you can imagine, OpenStack then, as now, is your best choice.

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