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The OpenStack Foundation: Building enterprise trust in open-source clouds

With HMRC and the European Commission emerging as OpenStack adopters, the OpenStack Foundation's CEO explains how it has set about winning over the enterprise with its open-source cloud platform

Although the likes of eBay and Paypal were quick to nail their flag to the OpenStack mast, it is fair to say that the open-source cloud platform has taken a little longer to win over the enterprise at large.

The software allows IT administrators to pool their datacentre’s storage, compute and networking resources and use them to create infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) environments in which to run their apps.   

Much of the enterprise’s reluctance to use OpenStack can be traced back to the software’s reputation for being difficult to deploy, and too immature for use with production workloads.

But the tide seems to be turning, if the growing list of reference customers using the software – within a wide spread of vertical markets – is anything to go by.

Indeed, open-source cloud computing provider Datacentred outlined details on 9 February about how it is using OpenStack to support the roll-out of a multi-channel digital tax platform (MDTP) for HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The deployment will play a central role in helping HMRC achieve its goal of giving UK taxpayers access to a fully digital tax system by 2020. This, in turn, is part of a wider push by the organisation to become more consistent and responsive in the way it deals with tax queries from businesses and individuals.

The MDTP is a microservices architecture with built-in API support. It will, effectively, act as a bridge between HMRC’s legacy VAT, self-assessment and PAYE systems, for example, and the new range of digital services it is rolling out for people to manage their tax affairs online.

On the latter point, HMRC has already announced details of the work it is doing to develop web-based personal tax account capabilities. These will allow end-users to keep tabs on their tax affairs via an online portal, and make use of private chat tools to raise queries with its customer support team.

Datacentred said the OpenStack architecture will ensure HMRC has a scalable infrastructure on which to run MDTP that will be equipped to cope with any surges in demand for its digital services, as and when they come online.

OpenStack public sector adoption grows

The use of OpenStack looks poised to grow elsewhere in the public sector, particular across Europe, where several purveyors of the technology – operating under the Cloud Technology Alliance name – have recently clinched a slot on the European Commission’s Cloud I framework.

Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) has made it a requirement that any ISV or supplier wishing to sell cloud apps or services to the European public sector or commercial organisations via its Cloud 28+ catalogue must ensure their wares are OpenStack-compliant within a year of joining.

Jonathan Bryce, CEO of the OpenStack Foundation, told Computer Weekly that the public sector’s acceptance of OpenStack is also reflected in other vertical markets, as the technology has been gaining traction in the financial services, insurance, retail, media and telco sectors.

Bryce puts this down to the growing maturity of the software, which has reportedly come on in leaps and bounds as more and more organisations check out OpenStack.

“By virtue of getting a bigger base of users, you flush out the bugs and the rough edges and the things that make it more difficult than it should be to use,” he said.

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One of the Foundation’s core aims is to encourage users to speak up when they encounter bugs or more generalised shortfalls in functionality, so that swift, corrective action can be taken.

“Our overarching goal is to create an environment where collaboration thrives, and what is critical for us and the Foundation is that we continue to maintain a community that is innovative, responsive and really collaborative, so these issues do not pass us by,” said Bryce.

This open, collaborative feedback loop has been an important part of making OpenStack simpler to use, while helping to address enterprise concerns about needing a large IT team on hand to run it, he said.

“Any time there is a new technology, the talent lags as it takes time for people to learn it,” he said. “Early on, OpenStack was honestly more complex and complicated than it is now, and you had to have more people in the IT team with a higher level of skills to use it. As the software has matured, that barrier to entry has come down.”

So the notion that enterprises will need a team of “20-30 people” to run OpenStack correctly no longer holds true, said Bryce. “We have lots of users that have a team of two or three people who are running fairly good-sized environments and business-critical functions,” he added.

Enterprise concerns around data sovereignty are also fuelling interest in OpenStack, particularly among European CIOs, said Bryce.

“They have reasons why they want to move to the public cloud, but the laws and regulations around data have made them hesitant to jump on board with hyperscale providers based in the US, even if they have a datacentre here,” he said.

Tracking shifts in OpenStack adoption

The way enterprises are choosing to use OpenStack is shifting too, Bryce added, with organisations increasingly willing to entrust the platform with more business-critical workloads.

As evidence of this, he points to the way OpenStack use has evolved within the financial services sector over the past five years, which he describes as a “big vote of confidence” for the platform.

“Wells Fargo, Visa, Barclays and others have all talked about how they’re using OpenStack in the past, but the thing that is interesting now is how they are moving from using it to run a mobile application or a marketing website and to underpin more of their core services,” he said.

Getting the public sector and commercial organisations to join the OpenStack bandwagon is one thing, but Bryce is also keen to help more universities and research organisations get involved.

“We’ve talked a lot about corporate companies using OpenStack, but there are a number of federated research clouds in Europe, the US, Australia and beyond that are using it to figure out the fundamentals of the universe or using OpenStack clouds to collaborate globally on cancer research,” he said.

“If you had wanted to collaborate in real time on a massive dataset like that before cloud, it would have been difficult. That’s why we want to make this technology available to everyone as part of our overarching goal. It is important, because cloud is going to be so critical to how everything gets done in the future.”

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