Can OpenStack free up enterprise IT to support software-driven business?

With Walmart going public with its use of OpenStack, now could be the time for big organisations to take the technology seriously

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With Walmart going public with its use of OpenStack, now could be the time for major organisations to take the technology seriously.

During the OpenStack Summit in Vancouver, supermarket giant Walmart announced how it was deploying OpenStack to power its e-commerce strategy.

Amandeep Singh Junejan, senior director for cloud operations and engineering at WalmartLabs, said: "E-commerce 3.0 is all about combining distribution so that all inventory is available to all customers all of the time, involving integration of the digital and physical."

OpenStack has been a key component of the world’s largest retailer’s e-commerce strategy.

Using OpenStack has enabled Walmart to give developers the freedom and flexibility to deploy applications quickly by using a private cloud for new applications.

Walmart’s aim is to empower developers to build and deploy new applications focused on improving the customer shopping experience across multiple channels.

Another organisation ramping up its OpenStack infrastructure is PayPal, which is running 100% of its financial transaction on OpenStack. And at sister company eBay, 20% of the IT infrastructure is OpenStack-based, but 100% of its development and testing runs on OpenStack. 

Agility and flexibility

It is being used to give the auction site’s developers greater agility and flexibility, enabling them to deploy applications more quickly.

Being open source, OpenStack promises to lower the costs of building private clouds.

At the same time, companies such as eBay, CERN, Comcast and PayPal are adopting OpenStack directly to avoid supplier lock-in, according to analyst Forrester.

But it promises far more than just cheaper IT infrastructure.

In a new Forrester report, OpenStack is ready, are you?, analyst Lauren Nelson wrote: "In reality, OpenStack sits behind net-new environments designed to launch your enterprise into a revolutionised continuous development experience. Its adoption supports a much larger transformation toward agility and development efficiency and is not tied to virtualisation or consolidation efforts."

OpenStack is often associated with migrating traditional IT onto a private cloud. Nelson said CIOs should look at a private cloud not just as a way to make their existing datacentre infrastructure more efficient and cheaper to run, but should consider creating an entirely new approach to IT to support changing business drivers.

"Using a private cloud to keep costs down is the wrong approach," she said. "OpenStack enables time efficiency, enabling developers to spin up new services quickly."

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IT departments that could not give the business this agility would soon find they were no longer relevant, Nelson warned.

Rather than focusing on using OpenStack to put existing datacentre workloads into a private cloud, private clouds "should be used for future applications and systems of engagement, in order to respond to industry disruption", she said.

The biggest competition for organisations such as City Group was websites like Facebook and Pinterest, which were putting pressure on traditional organisations to revolutionise their customer experience, said Nelson.

Datacentre interface

Although it is often considered as a way to build a private cloud, OpenStack can also be used to provision datacentre hardware directly. Subbu Allamaraju, chief engineer for cloud at eBay, said he would like to use OpenStack as the API for accessing all datacentre resources at the auction site, but the technology is not yet mature enough.

Walmart's Junejan added: "We aim to move more markets onto OpenStack and eventually offer datacentre as a service."

OpenStack can also be used to manage physical, bare metal server hardware. James Penick, cloud architect at Yahoo, said the internet portal and search engine had been using bare metal OpenStack alongside virtualisation. 

The company runs hundreds of thousands of physical servers and tens of thousands of VMs, which are now managed by OpenStack. Junejan said: "When you provision compute, whether bare metal or VM, you use OpenStack."

OpenStack maturity

Although OpenStack has proved its credentials in some of world's biggest businesses, many enterprises face huge technical challenges in deploying it, and it is also plagued with bugs. 

Imad Susou, vice-president of Intel's open source technology centre, said: "An enterprise can buy any Linux distribution and easily deploy it. We need to get here with OpenStack. It will take a lot of effort to get OpenStack mature. It will take all of us to get OpenStack to where it becomes the software-defined infrastructure."

At the Summit, OpenStack unveiled a new initiative called OpenStack-powered to make it easier for businesses to build IT infrastructures on OpenStack spanning private and public cloud infrastructure.

OpenStack executive director Jonathan Bryce said the initiative would offer global interoperable clouds, with OpenStack-powered cloud services made simpler for businesses to integrate.

Red Hat, Ubuntu and VMware are among the companies with products certified with the OpenStack-powered logo.

Solid foundation

Bryce added: "You can count on this as a solid foundation to build your application."

Intel’s Susou described the future of IT as software-defined infrastructure based on OpenStack. Such infrastructure is starting to give developers at Walmart and other major organisations the flexibility and agility they need to make the business more customer-centric.

Given that it is an open-source project, OpenStack functionality is driven by the community of users. With OpenStack-powered, it can provide a single interface across private and public clouds. OpenStack is also being extended to container technology including Docker and Kubernetes. 

During the Summit, Sandeep Parikh, cloud solutions architect at Google, showed how Kubernetes running on top of a Rackspace OpenStack Cloud could be load-balanced with the same application running on the Google Cloud Platform in the Google Container Engine.

Although OpenStack it is still an evolving technology, Forrester’s Nelson urged CIOs to give it serious consideration. Despite its publicised bugs and complexity of implementations, she said there were many examples of organisations deploying OpenStack in production environments

Business is becoming software-driven, said Nelson, and as businesses build new applications, they will need more flexible IT. A private cloud built on OpenStack is a way to achieve this, she said.

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Couple things:

- WalMart's OpenStack is done through WalMat Labs, which is somewhat separated from the large corporate entity. They are based in Silicon Valley, where more talent exists.
- WalMart has to have cloud expertise to compete vs. Amazon and their AWS expertise
- this wasn't an overnight process. this has been happening at WalMart for 3-4 years. Enterprises need to understand the time it takes to learn new skills and reshape internal culture.
Walmart Labs is smart to talk about their activities as a way to recruit new talent. Too many Enterprises, won't talk about their activities, and struggles to entice new engineers to join.
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