Happy (belated) birthday, OpenStack: you have much to look forward to

Now past the five-year anniversary of OpenStack’s creation, the half-decade milestone provides an opportunity to look back on how far the project has come in that time – and to peer thoughtfully into OpenStack’s next few years. At present, OpenStack represents the collective efforts of hundreds of companies and an army of developers numbering in the thousands. Their active engagement in continually pushing the project’s technical boundaries and implementing new capabilities – demanded by OpenStack operators – has defined its success.

Companies involved with OpenStack include some of the most prestigious and interesting tech enterprises out there, so it’s no surprise that this past year has seen tremendous momentum surrounding OpenStack’s Win the Enterprise program. This initiative – central to the future of the OpenStack project – garnered displays of the same contagious enthusiasm demonstrated in the stratospheric year-over-year growth in attendance at OpenStack Summits (the most version of the event, held in Tokyo, being no exception). The widespread desire of respected and highly-capable companies and individuals to be involved with the project is profoundly assuring, and proves the recognition of OpenStack as a frontrunner for the title of most innovative software and development community when it comes to serving enterprises’ needs for cloud services.

With enterprise adoption front of mind, these are the key trends now propelling OpenStack into its next five years:

Continuing to Redefine OpenStack

The collaborative open source nature of OpenStack has successfully provided the project with many more facets and functionalities than could be dreamt of initially five years ago, and this increase in scope (along with the rise of myriad new related components) has led to the serious question: “What is OpenStack?” This is not merely an esoteric query – enterprises and operators must know what available software is-and-is-not OpenStack in order to proceed confidently in their decision-making around the implementation of consistent solutions in their clouds. Developers require clarity here as well, as their applications may potentially need to be prepared to operate across different public and private OpenStack clouds in multiple regions.

If someone were to look up OpenStack in the dictionary (although not yet in Webster’s), what they’d see there would be the output of OpenStack’s DefCore project, which has implemented a process that now has a number of monthly definition cycles under its belt. This process bases the definition of a piece of software as belonging to OpenStack on core capabilities, implementation code and APIs, and utilizes RefStack verification tests. Now OpenStack distributions and operators have this DefCore process to rely on in striving for consistent OpenStack implementations, especially for enterprise.

Enterprise Implementation Made Easy

The OpenStack developer community is operating under a new “big tent” paradigm, tightening coordination on project roadmaps and releases through mid-cycle planning sessions and improved communication. The intended result? A more integrated and well-documented stack. Actively inviting new major corporate sponsors and contributors (for example Fujitsu, a new Gold member of OpenStack as of this July) has helped to better inform the ease of implementation with which enterprise can get on board with OpenStack.

Of course, OpenStack will still require expertise to be implemented for any particular use case, as it’s a complicated, highly configurable piece of software that can run across distributed systems – not to mention the knowledge needed to select storage sub-systems and networking options, and to manage a production environment at scale. However, many capable distribution and implementation partners have arisen worldwide to provide for these needs (Mirantis, Canonical, Red Hat, Aptira, etc), and these certainly have advantages over proprietary choices when looking at the costs and effort it takes to get a production cloud up and running.

The OpenStack Accelerator

A positive phenomena that enterprises experience when enabling their developers and IT teams to work within the OpenStack community is seen in the dividends gained from new insights into technologies that can be valuable within their own IT infrastructure. The open collaborations at the heart of OpenStack expose contributors to a vast ecosystem of OpenStack innovations, which enterprises then benefit from internalizing. Examples of these innovations include network virtualization software (Astara, MidoNet), software-defined storage (Swift, Ceph, SolidFire), configuration management tools (Chef, Puppet, Ansible), and a new world of hardware components and systems offering enough benefit to make enterprises begin planning how to take advantage of them.

The pace of change driven by OpenStack’s fast-moving platform is now such that it can even create concern in many quarters of the IT industry. Enterprise-grade technology that evolves quickly and attracts a lot of investment interest will always have its detractors. Incumbent vendors fear erosion of market share. IT services providers fear retooling their expertise and workflows. Startups (healthily) fear the prospect of failure. But the difference is that startups and innovators choose to embrace what’s new anyway, despite the fear. That drives technology forward, and fast. And even when innovators don’t succeed, they leave behind a rich legacy of new software, talent, and tribal knowledge that we all stand on the shoulders of today. This has been so in the OpenStack community, and speaks well of its future.


DreamHost - Stefano Maffulli HeadshotStefano Maffulli is the Director of Cloud and Community at DreamHost, a global web hosting and cloud services provider whose offerings include the cloud computing service DreamCompute powered by OpenStack, and the cloud storage service DreamObjects powered by Ceph.