How Open Is OpenStack?

Amy Larsen DeCarlo
Amy Larsen DeCarlo

Summary Bullets:

  • As the OpenStack Summit kicks off this week, the latest release, dubbed ‘Grizzly,’ is attracting notice for its impressive new feature list, which includes new support for VMware and Microsoft hypervisors as well as support for software-defined networking (SDN) implementations from Big Switch, Brocade and others.
  • However, if history teaches us anything, it is that individual vendor and provider implementations of the open source cloud platform may be sufficiently different from one another to eliminate the non-proprietary advantage that OpenStack claims.

In its relatively brief history, OpenStack has made remarkable gains.  Now in its seventh release, the open source cloud solution launched by Rackspace and NASA in 2010 boasts a veritable industry who’s who list of hundreds of developer contributors, including IT heavyweights such as Cisco, Dell, and Red Hat which have helped extend the cloud operating system’s feature set and capabilities to include support for VMware ESX and Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisors, compatibility with SDN implementations from a number of vendors, and more integrated security functionality.  The new features, along with a series of recent announcements of support for the open source infrastructure solution from providers such as IBM (and more organizations including Bloomberg and PayPal running OpenStack in production), highlight just how hot the cloud operating system is right now. 

This momentum is especially promising for organizations looking for a way to dodge the dreaded cloud vendor lock-in they so fear.  In theory, OpenStack implementations from different cloud providers would be interoperable.  This would make it easier for enterprises to move application workloads between and among clouds, allowing them to avoid committing to a single provider.

Yet, even as the hype around OpenStack builds, there is reason for enterprises to approach the technology with caution.  Though OpenStack has begun to etch its way into the consciousness of IT, at just three years old, the cloud operating system is still evolving.  OpenStack still has plenty of room to grow – and branch out – as individual developers take different approaches to implementing the open source software.  The result may be significantly different, and potentially incompatible, variations from different providers.

While it is too early in the game to determine how much of an issue incompatible OpenStack implementations may be in the future, enterprise IT decision makers would be wise to be aware of the potential future challenges.  The enterprise also has a chance now to influence development, putting pressure on OpenStack contributors to make interoperability a top priority.

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