OpenStack vs the rest of the public cloud: Where next from here?

In this guest post, Rob Greenwood, technical director at Manchester-based cloud and DevOps consultancy Steamhaus weighs up the pros and cons of using OpenStack over other public cloud platforms.

Just over a year ago, Cisco confirmed the closure of its OpenStack-based public cloud. Shortly after, several smaller datacentres and cloud providers, whose architecture relied on it, closed down, fell into administration or downsized their use of it.

These types of announcements always trigger predictions the OpenStack is on its way out, despite the fact it still powers more than 60 public cloud datacentres around the world.

Regardless of whether you’re a champion of the platform or not, there are some attractive OpenStack alternatives available on the market right now. Namely, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform and Amazon Web Services (AWS), who’ve all gained a significant share of the public cloud market since OpenStack arrived on the scene.

Each of these platforms have their pros and cons, particularly when it comes to issues such as vendor lock-in, scalability and technical support.

Locked in for life?

The proprietary vendor vs open source debate has raged for some time, with OpenStack advocates claiming their platform offers greater freedom than using any of its public cloud contemporaries.

Personally, I think people get too hung up on the vendor lock-in issue, because, in reality, you’ll always be tied to something – whether that’s a vendor or not. For example, your platform will often be tied to a piece of code regardless of where it’s hosted. And whenever you want to move from one platform to another, there will always be some work required in that migration.

Regardless of your preference however, you should always be tracking the way the market is moving and be prepared to respond accordingly.

The OpenStack ease of use issue

While you do get flexibility with OpenStack, you’re also dealing with lots of moving parts which require skilled engineers who understand its inner workings. Unfortunately, these people are few and far between.

Unless organisations have a highly-skilled engineering team in place, it can quickly become a minefield. It requires a lot of effort to keep stable and debug, and the learning curve is steep.

With that in mind, organisations need to decide if investing significant amounts of capital into building out and maintaining their own kit is something they want to do, especially when compared to the opex public cloud model.

Where next for OpenStack?

Over the last few years, Kubernetes has quickly become the established orchestration tool for managing containers. That layer of abstraction means we can control our containers regardless of the environment they are hosted in – be that in Google, AWS, Azure, on-premise or a combination of all four.

Serverless offerings, such as AWS’ Lambda, are also making it easier to deploy and scale applications without having to worry about the supporting infrastructure.

Both these solutions are changing the cloud landscape and reducing the reasons you would maintain your own OpenStack environment.

The momentum certainly seems to be moving in the direction of public cloud. That said, I’m not joining the doomsayers – those individuals who seem to relish in the demise of any technology.

I don’t believe this is the beginning of the end for OpenStack, and I’ve no doubt it will find its own niche. The Global Passport, an OpenStack initiative designed to bring disparate OpenStack clouds together, may help it carve out a new path.

But, eight years have passed since OpenStack was hailed as a revolution, so it’s time to acknowledge the market has changed — and appealing alternatives exist.

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