Three reasons you'll want to employ open source cloud software

VMware vCloud and AWS have the lion's share of the cloud market, but given the right circumstances, open source may be the better choice.

OpenStack is a cloud management platform that allows an organization to manage public, private and hybrid cloud

infrastructures. The OpenSource Foundation calls this a cloud operating system. OpenStack doesn't fit the traditional definition of an operating system, however. In reality it's an open source Infrastructure as a Service, or IaaS, initiative for creating and managing large groups of virtual private servers in a cloud computing environment. But the platform has quietly become a legitimate option for enterprises, given the right set of circumstances.

So, what are the right use cases for OpenStack in the enterprise? What are the associated costs? Let's take a look at three potential scenarios when enterprises could employ OpenStack. It's important to note that these use cases usually also apply to other open source cloud tools, such as CloudStack and Eucalyptus.

1. Accessing custom features

As an open source platform, OpenStack is completely customizable. For example, developers didn't create OpenStack as compliant with the Amazon Web Services (AWS) application programming interface or compatible with vSphere, but the user community has since amended the software to meet those needs.

This customization is a key difference for cloud users. With a utility such as VMware vCloud, users wanting AWS compatibility cannot make the changes themselves. They must request the feature and wait for VMware itself to add it to the application. If such a demand isn't widespread among the community or isn't in line with the vendor's business needs, the feature may never be added.

2. Avoiding vendor lock-in

Many admins complain that once they start using a commercial cloud platform, such as VMware vCloud or AWS, they are locked into the vendor's ecosystem. Being able to migrate from one public cloud to another and being able to provide redundancy across multiple cloud providers are just two benefits to employing OpenStack and thus avoiding vendor lock-in.

The rapid shutdown of popular cloud storage provider Nirvanix underscores the need for enterprises to have options for redundancy, but a lack of open standards will limit this capability.

OpenStack offers organizations a common platform to deploy across multiple cloud providers. This promises enterprises the ability to extend their OpenStack private cloud to one of many compliant cloud providers.

Any IT team can build an altered version of OpenStack to meet the needs of its customers, but that custom code can cause its own problems.

OpenStack has consistently deployed updated software versions, but organizations adjusting the code to suit their needs can cause incompatibility with new versions of the kernel.

3. Using the hybrid cloud ecosystem

When users think of migrating to the cloud, AWS comes to mind, regardless of whether it fits the business or technical needs of their organization. Amazon's dominance in the cloud market represents the need for another public cloud option.

Until OpenStack arrived, open source cloud platforms focused on providing AWS compatibility. For Rackspace or HP, however, leveraging a cloud management stack that provided AWS compatibility didn't offer a competitive value. The OpenStack ecosystem features plenty of options for enterprises from third-party cloud providers, including Rackspace, HP and Dell. These companies can provide scalability with OpenStack that can rival AWS when coupled with a cloud broker such as RightScale.

These options don't always succeed, however. Rackspace has consistently disappointed Wall Street with the lack of OpenStack cloud growth. The vendor continues to announce additional cloud products that use the VMware stack, managed by OpenStack. This could indicate what enterprise customers have asked Rackspace to provide. Rackspace's ability to build on a solution like OpenStack, to roll out its own private cloud and to extend it to the public cloud doesn't often occur in today's market.

Ebay's PayPal business unit is one example of a successful enterprise OpenStack deployment. PayPal has deployed a very scalable solution around OpenStack and VMware ESXi, but has had to invest a good deal of resources to develop the required functionality and integration.

The IT industry has yet to see heavy investments in, or deployments of OpenStack in non-tech enterprises. Both tech startups and titans have the in-house development tools to push OpenStack to the limits, but non-tech enterprises might not have the drive for the development needed to successfully deploy OpenStack. Nonetheless, the right enterprise with the right resources and needs will benefit from OpenStack.

This was first published in October 2013

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