OpenStack welcomes you to the software-defined economy

The IT revolution is here and OpenStack cloud leadership believes it's being driven by the cloud, the bring-your-own-device movement, and open-source software.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

PARIS — In 2010, the OpenStack Summit in San Antonio, TX had 250 attendees. Fast forward and the 2014 OpenStack Summit has 4,600 registered members from 59 countries and hundreds of companies ranging from start-ups to Fortune 50 businesses such as IBM, HP, and OpenStack's newest Platinum member Intel.


Get the picture? OpenStack isn't just some open-source project from Linux-friendly companies like SUSE, Red Hat, and OpenStack co-creators NASA and RackSpace. It is as serious as a bullet enterprise cloud. Heck, even Microsoft with its own cloud axe to grind, Azure, is working with OpenStack in a partnership with Canonical.

That's even more important than it may sound at first explained Jonathan Bryce, the OpenStack Foundation's executive director, in the opening keynote. For, you see, thanks to the speed of innovation of open source, Bryce explained:

Everyone is competing with a startup. In the software-defined economy everything changes faster than before, and it's all about choice. The old IT model of passive consumption where you must upgrade, all upgrades are absolutely required, and you're stuck in mandatory systems is done. This is the world of bring-your-own-device, use your own service, and deploy to production. The central planning committee is dead. In the past, tech came into a business from IT. Today BYOD and the cloud are being driven by people on the edges of the business.

An amusing, but telling comparison, Bryce observed, is that Lego recently surpassed Mattel as the world's largest toy company. He speculated that one reason is that Lego is like open source in that it provides people with a framework to build whatever they want.

For IT, this means that they face new challenges. This is a world where off-the-shelf software is no longer good enough. This gives "IT the biggest opportunity in a generation to impact business."

Where will this software come from? Jim Zemlin, The Linux Foundation's executive director, in a follow-up keynote said that in "today business model, value is being driven by software and open source is eating the software world."

That's because, Zemlin continued,  "No one company can write this software on their own anymore. Businesses are recognizing this. 80 percent of software is now open source. This frees business so that they can focus only on those aspects of the software that differentiate them from the competition."

So, you can either re-invent the cloud wheel or you can make use of open-source projects such as OpenStack. If you adopt open-source programs, Zemlin concluded, "You're on the right side of history."

The next keynote speaker, Dr. Stefan Lenz, BMW's datacenter department manager, underlined the futility of this old software path. After driving in with the new, and gorgeous, BMW i8 electric sports car, Lenz said that the only way BMW can afford to run out of Germany, a high-cost country, is by always working on being cost-efficient.

So, they did as they've always done. They built their own cloud for themselves "and it was wonderful. It worked perfectly. Everything was great and then we ran into trouble and realized we didn't have the time to fix it. For every minute our IT doesn't work, we can't make one car and we're in the car-making business, not IT."

So, they looked at OpenStack, but, Lenz, explained, "I used to do real work as a system administrator and then I became a manager and all I did was look at slideshows. I told people, 'Don't give me the bars and arrows, give me the facts' and still all they gave me was charts with bars and circles."

Annoyed, Lenz finally installed OpenStack Icehouse with Ubuntu himself to see what it was all about. It worked. He took the executives in and showed them a production testbed. Now, BMW, is on its way to switching its datacenters to OpenStack.

Lenz saw two major advantages in OpenStack; "First we have an API to describe cloud and virtualization that will become an industry standard. We don't have to change our tool chains — we failed internally with this." Equally important, "It's open-source and free. No one but us profits from the growth of our company. There are no increasing license fees."

OpenStack isn't perfect for BMW. "The thing that bothers us the most," Lenz said, "is the huge changes from one release to another. With industry grade we need more stability." But, it's getting there.

BMW isn't the only major company betting its cloud chips on OpenStack. Matt Haynes, VP of cloud engineering for Time-Warner Cable, partnered with Cisco and SwiftStack, which specializes in OpenStack software defined storage to switch its two datacenters to OpenStack in two quarters.

Haynes admitted that was "Easier said than done. We tripped a few times." But, and this is little short of amazing, they made it. As Haynes concluded, "OpenStack is up to these tasks." He also shouted out to Puppet, for DevOps; Pecona, for MySQL database; and Canonical for Ubuntu Linux, as all being ready for enterprise-sized jobs.

In a meeting after the keynotes, Bryce said an OpenStack user survey found that 46 percent of companies working with OpenStack are now using it in production. He added that a top ten car company, not BMW, is also using OpenStack in production, but are as yet unwilling to come public with their strategic IT move.

Is OpenStack the one, true cloud of the future? No, it still too early to tell and it needs more work.

In the concluding keynote panel, Intel IT Hybrid Cloud Product Owner Ruchi Bhargava said OpenStack still needs three important improvements: The ability to do rolling upgrades; better integration with legacy infrastructure, and federated identity.

Still, for a project that has teething problems, international banks such as Wells-Fargo, major car manufacturers such as BMW; top scientific organizations like CERN; and the second largest cable company in the United States, Time-Warner Cable, have all found OpenStack already fits their cloud needs.

I strongly suspect it may meet your corporate cloud needs as well.  In a world where software defines your business, you'll want the best, and OpenStack looks like it will be giving Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure a run for the money.

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