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Unlocking IaaS: The challenges facing OpenStack

Analysing the challenges of growing rapidly in an exciting new market

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Infrastructure-as-a-service is gaining traction in the enterprise with customers lauding the flexibility that it delivers. However, there is still that nagging concern about vendor lock-in.

Enter OpenStack: The open source project spearheaded by NASA and Rackspace in 2010 to build a cloud infrastructure platform that can be used by enterprises and service providers alike. The goal is that workloads placed in one cloud can easily run unchanged in another, if it's either technologically, politically or financially more attractive to move them.

The project has grown exponentially in the past 18 months. The three core projects are Compute, Object Store and Image Service. OpenStack is officially incubating two more projects that tackle identity services and dashboard and portal capabilities. Additionally, there are another 13 projects being pursued by members that are not officially sanctioned by OpenStack.

The only downsides to OpenStack, says Jonathan Bryce, OpenStack Project Policy Board and co-founder of Rackspace Cloud, relate to the newness of the project and the fact that it's growing so fast. "It's a lot of work just to keep up with the changes. In the next six months the platform will mature and things will settle down."

The project currently has 2,685 individual members and 159 companies actively participating. Citrix, Korea Telecom, GoDaddy, Zynga, HP, Dell and ATT have all announced plans to run clouds based on OpenStack.

"What started as an effort to leverage the open community to help advance the technologies started by Rackspace and NASA has now turned into a vibrant community advancing IaaS technologies at a rapid pace," James Staten, an analyst with Forrester, wrote in a recent blog post on the topic.

Jeromy Carrier is chief architect with X.commerce, an eBay and PayPal company charged with building a cloud platform to bridge online and offline commerce of eBay and PayPal's participants. It also arms developers and merchants with tools to help sell their goods and services to consumers. The company worked with RackSpace CloudBuilders, a professional services group acquired by the founding hoster, to build the cloud commerce platform in OpenStack cloud.

"There is no fundamental lock-in. We've got a multi-vendor investment plan going forward and we have to have every opportunity to consider all the options in the future," says Carrier, noting that he's been very impressed with the rate of innovation that is happening in this open development process.

While there are no inherent holes in the project that keep him up at night, Carrier does think there needs to be more work done in the areas of automation. And he'd love to see some more tools that help managers "understand and manage the capacity of this highly dynamic beast."


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