OpenStack is often compared to Linux, not merely because they're both open source projects but because of their similar adoption trajectories. Like Linux, OpenStack has so far been popular among tech-savvy early adopters and cloud storage providers, with vendors in the latter category taking advantage of OpenStack APIs to create interoperable and cost-effective private and hybrid cloud architectures.
But while Linux has found a comfortable home in the enterprise as a flexible, reliable OS for running servers, OpenStack has so far struggled to gain a similar level of traction. Some companies have balked at the perceived complexity of integrating OpenStack services, a conundrum amplified by the do-it-yourself nature of many OpenStack offerings. Implementations have remained rare, with many enterprises opting instead for more tightly packaged commercial solutions or turning to platforms with wider reach, such as Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform.
However, OpenStack may still have good prospects – the challenges are mostly on the implementation and sales sides, and they don't appear rooted in any general disinterest in the project. For open source software to make greater inroads in the enterprise, it will take commercial solutions that utilize OpenStack in a beneficial way, just like Linux rose to prominence through the discovery of new use cases for the Linux kernel.
OpenStack's path to greater enterprise uptake
Last year, Gartner analyst Alessandro Perilli detailed what he saw as the key factors that had impeded OpenStack adoption in the enterprise, including lack of pragmatism, difficulty in explaining what OpenStack can and cannot do, vaguely defined business models and insufficient long-term product differentiation. Regarding the latter point, he argued that there is an abundance of OpenStack distributions, yet not enough solutions that are easy to install.
"What value [do vendors] add to the vanilla OpenStack code that enterprises could (but don't want to) download by themselves?," asked Perilli. "What is the differentiation between all these distributions? For way too many, it's all about number of code contributors and simplifying the installation process, in this exact order."
Perilli's blog post stirred up a number of responses from the OpenStack community. Red Hat's Bryan Che explained that open source was integral to the company's Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform, and that Red Hat's upstream contributions to the project had enabled it to better integrate APIs into its commercial offerings. This may be a model that more companies need to follow in order to make OpenStack-based solutions more palatable to enterprise buyers.
Before they can do that, though, it may be important to get a clearer sense of what OpenStack actually is and is not. As Randy Bias, CEO of Cloudscaling (a Seagate Cloud Builder Alliance Partner) has explained, OpenStack isn't a reference architecture and is instead characterized by a DIY attitude that ensures that every implementation is unique like a snowflake. In this sense, it cannot be compared apples-to-apples to something like AWS.
OpenStack's technical immaturity is largely a product of its open source nature. As Red Hat cloud evangelist Gordon Haff noted in a post for opensource.com, open source development is an iterative, incremental process that takes time to move products out of niche status and into commercial production. Moreover, enterprises may be looking for OpenStack products rather than possible DIY tweaks they can make to the OpenStack framework. The parallels with Linux, which for years was confined to a small user base, are worth noting.
The appeal of using OpenStack for business
The stakes are high for getting OpenStack products, given the interest in the platform. An IDG survey of 200 enterprise IT decision makers found that 84 percent of them intended to make OpenStack a part of their cloud plans. More specifically, the study found that more than half of respondents were on at least their second private cloud implementation, underscoring the strong demand for software and hardware tools that facilitate gains in storage, networking and compute.
As they improve their cloud infrastructure, companies are also looking interoperability. Mark Franklin, a vice president at OpenStack contributor HP, argued that the OpenStack community may give enterprises a clearer way forward than proprietary alternatives, which can change without much user input.
"If you went one way to support AWS capability, Amazon could go in a total different direction and make it really hard for the community to maintain anything because we don't control those APIs," stated Franklin, according to SiliconANGLE. "There's no open way. Every six months we come to those Design Summits and talk about how can we advance stuff. If the APIs are going to change, they are changing because the community makes a decision about them changing."
Vendors such as HP are rolling out private cloud solutions at the same time that they continue to explore the public cloud. While it may take time for enterprises to find an optimal approach to private and hybrid infrastructure, OpenStack is in a good position to facilitate ideal environments for many organizations.