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OpenStack gains early foothold in Australia

Although the open source technology has its cheerleaders, OpenStack has yet to crack Australia’s mainstream and challenge the market share of proprietary cloud suppliers

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW Asia-Pacific: CW ANZ: OpenStack gains a foothold in Australia

When the OpenStack Foundation polled its user community in 2017, it found that there had been a 44% year-on-year increase in deployments of the technology, with 74% taking place outside the US.

In Australia, the open-source approach to cloud computing has had poster child supporters such as the Nectar research project, universities across the country, the Commonwealth Bank – albeit with a relatively small deployment – and Telstra.

Australia has been one of the earliest adopters of OpenStack, said Jonathan Bryce, executive director of the 85,000-member OpenStack Foundation, noting that organisations including IAG and the Australian Department of Defence have been attending OpenStack events in the past year or so.

“In general, I see it following a similar trend to other regions where we have had some early users for years, and have recently started to see expansion across industries,” Bryce said.

For “boutique” clouds that are being developed in OpenStack, Bryce said the early challenges of deployability and manageability are being addressed through improvements made to the platform by the open-source community, as well as efforts by service providers to introduce new consumption models and OpenStack public cloud services.

“At this point, OpenStack has matured to the point where there is a diversity of consumption models that meets the needs of any organisation where they are,” said Bryce.

Andrew Boag, managing director of technology service provider Catalyst IT in Australia, reckoned the strides that OpenStack has made in Australia stems from the growing maturity of technology, as well as an expanding user base that helps to overcome inertia.

“In some ways it’s reminding us of the way Linux took hold,” he said. “It was considered radical, but now when you’re rolling out infrastructure, you’re rolling out Linux.”

Even though OpenStack has its cheerleaders, such as telcos that are looking to move away from legacy platforms towards network virtualisation, it has yet to crack Australia’s mainstream and seriously challenge the market share of proprietary cloud suppliers.

Panellists who spoke at the OpenStack summit in Sydney in late 2017 said part of the reason for that is that business executives and boards still feel more comfortable with investing their cloud budgets with companies such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

Australian use cases

It has only been eight years since OpenStack emerged as a pilot project started by Rackspace and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration to create open-source tools to manage clouds built on any type of hardware. The OpenStack marketplace is still maturing, with particular use cases in Australia that make the technology interesting.

For example, the unique geography of Australia and the high cost – and often rather ordinary quality – of communications services meant that for certain applications, it would be cheaper to deploy edge computing devices that run on small OpenStack-based private clouds and 5G networks, rather than use a centralised cloud deployment model.

Indeed, Telstra chief engineer David Yohannes had posited the idea of Telstra – which is also a big Amazon and Microsoft Azure user and reseller – rolling out a series of OpenStack private clouds in its telecoms exchanges to support edge computing.

Nectar’s deputy director Paul Coddington said there were similar motivations for universities and research communities running data intensive applications, where it would make sense to roll out smaller private clouds, instead of transmitting large volumes of data to be processed in consolidated cloud datacentres.

Alongside OpenStack’s growing adoption is better understanding of the use and cost advantages of a private cloud. “It’s not cheaper or better, but it’s different and in some cases demonstrably better,” said Boag.

But he noted that there is still no hiding from the fact that OpenStack is still a complicated framework.

Complex but flexible

Tristan Goode, CEO of cloud service provider Aptira and founder of Australia’s OpenStack user group, said supplier involvement had overcomplicated some elements of OpenStack and led to a proliferation of tools in some areas, making nearly every deployment entirely bespoke.

“It became dreadfully complex,” he said, adding that while some organisations such as Nectar were willing to dabble in OpenStack, it was daunting to others.

Although there are a growing number of suppliers offering OpenStack support, companies still need to carefully analyse the risks and rewards. “There is complexity in running your own cloud, but there is also flexibility and power,” said Boag.

Goode said as more telecoms companies deploy OpenStack, the tool would continue to mature and become more attractive to other sectors, such as financial services which were drawn to OpenStack’s ability to ensure data sovereignty and offer complete control of data – right down to where the data is held and transmitted at the physical infrastructure level.

Although Goode was optimistic about the technology’s future, noting that a number of Tier 2 and 3 telcos are now using OpenStack clouds as the foundation for their businesses, one issue that still plagues OpenStack users is access to skills.

Boag said finding OpenStack skills was challenge, through this was common to any IT role. “There is no large organisation that has not been in search of high quality technology professionals. OpenStack skills and experience are highly valued, and there is a considerable learning curve,” he said.

Bryce, however, noted this was being addressed by the Certified OpenStack Administrator programme, which he said has produced thousands of people skilled in the technology.

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