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This article is part of our Essential Guide: Essential guide to hybrid cloud workloads

Is OpenStack ready for mass adoption?

The OpenStack community is working on a number of fronts to make it easier to deploy private clouds, including a a training programme due in 2016

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While the technology in OpenStack continues to evolve, there is growing realisation in the community that skills rather than technology is the main barrier to deploying the open source private cloud.

OpenStack aims to create a cloud built to be programmable, enabling developers to build applications that run natively in private clouds, where the application itself can control how much computing, storage and networking resources it needs.

Such applications represent what many believe to be the future of IT: A cloud-first world to support the digitisation of business. At the cutting edge are applications designed to run in containers that can seamlessly move from bare metal hardware to private clouds or even public clouds. But few IT departments have the know-how to get there with OpenStack.

During his opening keynote presentation at the OpenStack Summit in Tokyo, OpenStack Foundation executive director, Jonathan Bryce, announced a the first certification, for the cloud platform. The Certified OpenStack Administrator (COA), aims to bridge the skills gap. He said: “The talent always lags the technology. We expect COA certification to become a valuable credential that any hiring manager would want to see on the resumé of viable candidate. Further, it is our hope that the OpenStack professional certification programme will encourage new entrants into the OpenStack community and expand the talent pool in the industry.”

The idea is to provide a baseline of expertise. He said a training programme will be delivered virtually in 2016. Twenty organisations include Canonical, HP, Mirantis, SuSE and Red Hat are expected to deliver training programmes for COA.

Certification may encourage some people to train as OpenStack administrators. John Engates, chief technology officer at Rackspace, believes it represents an important milestone for the private cloud software and will help to ensure consultants meet a minimum set of skills requirements.

But unless it becomes easier to deploy, some people feel that OpenStack will be limited to a handful of large reference users such as Cern, Walmart, PayPal and Best Buy. COA could help, mirroring the early days of server virtualisation, where training courses showed people what was possible, ideas they could then try in their own organisations. 

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There are a number of industry efforts to make OpenStack simpler to deploy. Martin Cooper, technical director at Solidfire, said: “It used to be the case that you need a PhD to understand OpenStack. But now companies like Red Hat, Mirantis and HP are supporting OpenStack and bringing out pre-engineered systems that do the heavy lifting, which lowers the adoption bar.”

Anand Krishnan, executive vice-president for cloud at Canonical, said: “If OpenStack is to be successful in the coming 12 months there needs to be a wave of enterprise adoption.” A year ago, he said the community used to talk about new features. “Now customers want it to be really simple to use.”

Canonical’s answer to simplicity is automation tools like AutoPilot and Juju. AutoPilot, according to Krishnan, provides IT administrators with a “one-click installation of a functioning OpenStack cloud”. While Juju is an orchestration tool, which he said enables administrators to drag and drop workloads onto bare metal severs, private cloud or public cloud services like Azure or AWS.

As Computer Weekly has previously reported, in July 2015, Rackspace and Intel joined forces to accelerate the technical maturity and reliability of the OpenStack platform through the creation of an innovation centre in San Antonio, Texas.

During the summit’s opening presentation Intel software vice-president Imad Sousou, said: “OpenStack still needs a lot of work to make it usable.”

Scaling up and down

Organisations such as NTT Docomo and Yahoo Japan presented at the summit, showing that OpenStack has proved it scales upwards. NTT Docomo took away the Super User award at the Tokyo Summit for its implementation which supports one billion page views and 170 million messages a day. Yahoo Japan runs a portal with 30 billion monthly page views using an OpenStack cloud with 50,000 virtual machines. The site survived a large peak in traffic following the earthquake earlier this year, when people went to Yahoo Japan for news and advice. The question remains how well OpenStack copes in organisations that require far smaller private clouds.

Radhesh Balakrishhnan, general manager for OpenStack at Red Hat, said the company’s Director tool in Rhel OpenStack 7.0, which has been designed to enable customers to manage an OpenStack environment easily. As more software company start building products for OpenStack Balakrishhnan predicted that more customer deployment tools would emerge, addressing the need to make it easier to use.

OpenStack’s real promise is to enable organisations to create AWS like experiences for private clouds, to support new digital business initiatives. Applications can be deployed quickly and safely in a private cloud by the developers themselves. However OpenStack faces a number of challenges: It needs to educate the IT department about the value of private clouds, which is not simply about replacing physical hardware with virtual hardware; it also needs to make it easier to deploy. With each summit it gets closer to this goal. But, arguably, for many CIOs, it is still an early adopter technology.

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