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Navigating OpenStack deployment challenges

Businesses struggle to mask the open source platform's complexity, but sound procedures enhance the likelihood of successful deployments.

Undertaking an OpenStack deployment is not easy: "Half of all enterprises that tried to implement an OpenStack cloud have failed", according to a recent SUSE survey. However, best practices have emerged, and companies can use them to avoid becoming the next OpenStack failure.

The first step toward a successful OpenStack deployment is setting realistic expectations. OpenStack is not a simple, plug-and-play technology. Instead, the open source platform is a complex architecture, one that provides companies with a great deal of flexibility in how they configure and manage applications. "The OpenStack ecosystem is young and immature, much like SAP in the old days," said Sam Melehy, CEO at Zefflin, a data center consulting firm.

Find the best fit for OpenStack deployment

Consequently, companies need to be careful about how they use it. "OpenStack is not a platform suitable for all applications; it works best for specific use cases," said Gary Chen, research manager, Software-Defined Compute at IDC.

The open source solution's support for emerging technologies, like containers, means it often does not mesh well with legacy, traditional on-premises workloads, like Enterprise Resource Planning systems. "OpenStack is best-suited to greenfield applications," noted Kamesh Pemmaraju, vice president, product marketing at Mirantis. In these cases, the standard is not weighed down by outdated, legacy architectures.

The open source system is gaining traction in a few niches. Cloud, mobile and Web applications are other areas where OpenStack interest is growing. DevOps, an emerging development methodology that tightly links system resources to application testing, is another good use case.

Lending you a hand

OpenStack deployment is complex, consequently, corporations often need support when deploying it. Businesses, especially those beginning their OpenStack journey, should avoid working directly with the open source code. Here, companies are saddled with a do-it-yourself approach where they become responsible for integration work and ongoing troubleshooting and support.

"Enterprises should go with an OpenStack distribution," recommended Al Sadowski, research director for the Service Providers practice at 451 Research. With a distribution, a vendor packages a number of OpenStack capabilities into a turnkey product and provides support. Canonical, Cisco, EMC, Mirantis, Oracle, PistonCloud, Rackspace, Red Hat and SUSE are some of the suppliers offering such packages.

In addition, OpenStack specialists are emerging. Leading hardware providers, such as Dell and IBM; product and service vendors, like Platform9 and Rackspace; and consultants, like Accenture and Zefflin, offer various OpenStack consulting, integration, and management services.

Take advantage of the ecosystem

The OpenStack Foundation, which was formed in 2011, is an ad hoc group geared to encouraging the open source platform's adoption. The consortium created the OpenStack Marketplace, an online source for a half of dozen or so product and service categories, such as consulting services, distributions, drivers, and training. For instance, the application catalog features a few dozen products, including Glance images, Murano app packages, and Heat templates.

Businesses need to pick the right architectural framework for their OpenStack deployment. They have to decide whether they are going to run the applications on commodity or proprietary hardware, according to Zefflin's Melehy. The commodity systems may cost less but require a high degree of in-house expertise. The proprietary systems are more expensive but have more tools and support behind them than commodity products.

Develop the needed skill sets

OpenStack finds itself in the new technology stage of its lifecycle. Given its fledgling state, the pool of available personnel is limited. lists more than 3,100 available OpenStack positions -- with salaries starting at $85,000 -- in the U.S. now.

Rather than get into bidding wars for rare personnel, companies may want to train their employees in the open source platform. Linux has been at the forefront of the open source movement for the past few decades. Consequently organizations that have used the open source operating system are in the best position to develop their own OpenStack techies. Aptira, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the Linux Foundation, Mirantis and Red Hat are some of the vendors offering various OpenStack training and certification programs.

Incorporate security

Unfortunately, system security problems are quite common nowadays. In fact, a Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society survey found that two-thirds of organizations (66%) experienced a significant security incident in the past year. As a result, a clear majority (87%) said cybersecurity increased as a business priority during that time.

Integrating security into an OpenStack deployment is key to successful adoption. Recently, the OpenStack Foundation outlined common authorization and authentication systems, which can help businesses address security issues.

Right now, OpenStack is being used for a few applications by large enterprises, like Comcast, PayPal, and Wal-Mart. As companies gain more experience and the technology matures, additional best practices will emerge and, ideally, its failure rate will drop.

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