Reflections on the OpenStack Atlanta summit
When I wrote a research note called Don’t Let OpenStack Hype Distort Your Selection of a Cloud Management Platform in 2012, in September 2012, I took quite a bit of flak in public for my statements about OpenStack’s maturity. At the time, I felt that the industry was about 18 to 24 months from the point where real commercial adoption of OpenStack would begin. It now looks like I made the right call — 20 months have passed since I wrote that note, and indeed, OpenStack seems to be on the cusp of that tipping point. OpenStack is truly becoming a business. Last year’s Portland summit was a developer summit. This year’s summit has the feel of a trade show, although of course it’s still a set of working meetings as well as a user conference.
There’s much work to be done still, but things are grinding onwards in an encouraging fashion. The will to solve the common problems of installs, upgrades, and networking seems to have permeated the community sufficiently that these basic elements of usability and stability are getting into the core. The involvement of larger vendors has created a collective determination to do what it takes to make enterprise adoption of OpenStack possible, in due time.
In March of this year, I wrote a new document called An Overview of OpenStack, 2014. It contains the updated Gartner positions on OpenStack — along with practical information for users, like use cases, vendors, and how to select a distro. (No vendor has done a free reprint of the note, so it’s behind the paywall, sorry.) I have no updates to that position after this summit; it has been largely what I expected it to be. However, I did want to comment on what I see as one of the key questions now facing the OpenStack Foundation and contributing vendors.
One of the positions taken in my recent note is a re-iteration of a 2012 position — we believe that OpenStack “will eventually mature into a solid open-source core at the heart of multiple commercial products and services.” One of the key questions that seems to be at hand now is how large that core should be — a fundamental controversy for OpenStack Foundation members, each of whom has a position based on where their company adds value.
At one pole of the spectrum are the vendors who want to maximize the capabilities in OpenStack that are fully open-source — I’ll call them the “more open” camp. (End-users, of course, also all want this.) These vendors typically differentiate in some way that is not the software itself. They do consulting, they are managed services providers, they are cloud IaaS providers, or they are selling some kind of product or service that uses OpenStack under the covers but delivers some other kind of value (NFV, SaaS, and so on). They want the maximum capabilities delivered in the software, and they’re willing to contribute their own work towards this end.
At the other pole of the spectrum are the vendors who intend to sell a cloud management platform (CMP) and need to be able to differentiate — I’ll call them the “more proprietary” camp. That means that there’s the question of “how does a distro differentiate”. It has already been previously argued that installation and upgrades should be left to commercial distributions. At long last it seems to be agreed that for the good of the community at least some of these capabilities need to be decent in the core. The next controversial one seems to be an HA control plane. But it also gets into the broader question of how deep the functionality of OpenStack as a whole should go. Vendors that sell OpenStack software really fall into two broad categories — those that intend to supportively wrap what is essentially vanilla OpenStack (like the Linux vendors), and those who are building a full-fledged CMP (or CMP suite) into which OpenStack may essentially disappear near-invisibly (except for maybe an exposed API), surrounded by a rich fudgy layer of proprietary software (like HP and IBM). Most of these vendors want just enough in the OpenStack open-source to make OpenStack overall successful.
There are nuances here, of course, and many vendors fall somewhere between these two poles, but I think that summarizes the two camps pretty well. Each camp has its own beliefs about what is best for their own companies and what is best for OpenStack. These are legitimate debates about what is “just enough” functionality in OpenStack (and how that “just enough” changes over time), even amongst vendors who occupy the “more proprietary” camp — and whether that “just enough” is sufficient to satisfy the “more open” camp. Indeed, the “more open” camp may find that they cannot get their contributions accepted because the “more proprietary” camp is gatekeeping.
It is critical to note that no vendor I’ve ever spoken to thinks that OpenStack interoperability means that you should be able to easily switch between distributions or OpenStack-based service providers. Rather, the desire is to ensure that there’s enough of an interoperability construct that there can be a viable OpenStack ecosystem — it’s about the ability of ecosystem vendors to interoperate with a variety of OpenStack-based vendors, far more than it is about the user’s ability to interoperate between OpenStack-based solutions. To reiterate another point from my previous research notes: Customers should expect to be no less locked into an OpenStack-based vendor/provider than they would into any other CMP or cloud IaaS provider.