OpenStack, the open-source cloud at 10

By 2010, both the cloud and open-source software were becoming mainstream, but they hadn't been combined. Then, NASA and Rackspace joined forces and released OpenStack, the first open-source cloud, and the world would never be the same.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

In 2010. Oracle's Larry Ellison may still have thought that the cloud was "complete gibberish," while some people were insisting that the "cloud was just someone else's computer," but savvy folks knew better. At NASA Ames Research Center and Rackspace, two groups of developers decided that the best way to approach a cloud was to build one out from open-source software: OpenStack.

The Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud, Amazon Web Services' ancestor was already around and Microsoft had launched Azure in February 2010. But even though they were already running Linux and other open-source programs, these were privately held, proprietary platforms. The Ames team wanted NASA to host and manage its own computing and data resources.

Ames' answer was to create Nebula, an early Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) cloud. But, as Brian Gracely, Red Hat's senior director of product strategy, pointed out, "NASA didn't have the staff to build the whole thing and maintain it long-term." So, Ames went the open-source route. The first major building block, Nova, is still part of OpenStack today. At the time, though, as one developer put it, "It's live, it's buggy, it's beta. Check it out."

That's exactly what Rackspace did. Two months later, the Rackspace and NASA teams were working together and released the very first version of OpenStack.

Within a few years, OpenStack's popularity exploded. HP, IBM, Red Hat, VMware, and numerous other tech powers threw their support behind OpenStack. As Jim Curry, then Rackspace's SVP of Strategy and Corporate Development, explained, "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's become far more than an AWS alternative. With over 8,000 programmers, OpenStack now has 32 different projects under its umbrella. These projects, such as Airship, a cloud-provisioning system; Kata Containers, lightweight, container-like virtual machines (VMs); StarlingX, an edge infrastructure software stack; and Zuul, a continuous integration/delivery (CI/CD) program, cover a wide variety of cloud and related services. These include APIs to orchestrate bare metal, VMs, and container resources on a single network. Today's OpenStack can also meet the demands of such use cases as high-performance computing (HPC), AI, and machine learning.

Since its origins OpenStack has had 21 on-time releases, from "Austin" to "Ussuri." Looking ahead, 451 Research projects a $7.7 billion USD OpenStack market by 2023. Most of its growth is happening in Asia (36%), Latin America (27%), Europe (22%), and North America (17%). 

OpenStack has also become the cloud of choice for telecoms. These companies, such as AT&T and BT are using OpenStack as the foundation for their 5G initiatives.

Last, but not least, OpenStack remains the most popular open-source cloud for private, hybrid, and public clouds. While some of its early proponents, such as SUSE, have abandoned OpenStack, others like Red Hat, remain staunch OpenStack supporters. Red Hat will soon be releasing its next OpenStack release, Red Hat OpenStack Platform 16.1. Red Hat won't be the only one standing by OpenStack. Its future still looks bright.

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