OpenStack: What It Is, What It Does

OpenStack: What It Is, What It Does

In the next 12 to 18 months, more companies are going to be migrating their IT services to some kind of cloud technology. A part of this process certainly will be around OpenStack, thanks to its many benefits.

Anyone paying attention to all the cloud technologies discussions over the last 12 to 18 month has heard of OpenStack. Companies that are looking to reap the rewards of cloud computing often will hear things such as open source, avoiding vendor lock-in, IaaS, time-to-market, flexibility, capex vs. opex and control. So where does OpenStack fit into the conversation?

OpenStack is a cloud operating system that controls large pools of compute, storage and networking resources throughout a data center, all managed through a dashboard that gives administrators control while empowering their users to provision resources through a web interface. In general, it is an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) operating system for building and managing cloud computing platforms for public, private and hybrid clouds.

The main task of OpenStack is to provision virtual machines (VMs) and related services.

OpenStack History

OpenStack's beginnings date back to July 2010 when NASA and Rackspace combined forces and started a open source-based cloud platform. NASA contributed the Nova (compute) component, while Rackspace contributed Swift (storage). Sometime later other companies made contributions, making more applications integrated with OpenStack.

The first release of OpenStack, Austin, debuted in late 2010. Updates are released every six months or so, with the most recent release, Ice House, in April 2014.

OpenStack is managed by the OpenStack Foundation, a non-profit that oversees both development and community-building around the project. The foundation has more than 16,000 members from 140 countries and more than 850 different organizations, and has received more than $10 million in funding to fulfill the OpenStack mission of becoming the ubiquitous cloud computing platform.

The goal of the OpenStack Foundation is to serve developers, users, and the entire ecosystem by providing a set of shared resources to grow the footprint of public and private OpenStack clouds, enable technology vendors targeting the platform and assist developers in producing the best cloud software in the industry.

Because OpenStack is open source, it is freely available to anyone to use, copy, study and change the software in any way. The source code is openly shared so people are encouraged to voluntarily improve the design of the software. OpenStack is released under the terms of the Apache License 2.0. Companies and individuals can add additional components to OpenStack to help it to meet their needs.

At the core of OpenStack is the community and collaboration. The same rules for the code also apply to documentation. Ideally, any code contribution that is merged into the base has documentation to go with it.

OpenStack Building Modules

The OpenStack community has collaboratively identified several “programs” of OpenStack, which are distributed as a part of any OpenStack system and officially maintained by the OpenStack community. Having a modular approach while keeping the stack open source provides an easy integration between the modules. Each module has minimum dependency on each other.

  • Object Store (code-named "Swift") provides object storage.
  • Image (code-named "Glance") provides a catalog and repository for virtual disk images.
  • Compute (code-named "Nova") provides virtual servers upon demand.
  • Dashboard (code-named "Horizon") provides a modular web-based user interface for all the OpenStack services.
  • Identity (code-named "Keystone") provides authentication and authorization for all the OpenStack services
  • Network (code-named "Neutron") provides "network connectivity as a service" between interface devices managed by other OpenStack services (most likely Nova).
  • Block Storage (code-named "Cinder") provides persistent block storage to guest VMs.
  • Metering (code-named "Ceilometer") provides telemetry services, which allow the cloud to provide billing services to individual users of the cloud.
  • Orchestration (code-named “Heat”) is the component of OpenStack, which allows developers to store the requirements of a cloud application in a file that defines what resources are necessary for that application.
  • Database Service (code-named “Trove”) allows users to quickly and easily utilize the features of a relational database without the burden of handling complex administrative tasks.
  • Key Management (code-named “Barbican”) ReST API designed for the secure storage, provisioning and management of secrets.
  • Common Libraries (code-named “Oslo”) a set of python libraries containing code shared by OpenStack projects.

The following are new capabilities under development for the Juno revision and beyond:

  • Bare Metal (code-named “Ironic”) provides the capability to provision bare metal servers
  • Queue Service (code-named “Marconi”) cloud messaging and notification service for developers building applications on top of OpenStack
  • Data Processing (code-named “Sahara”) simple means to provision a Hadoop cluster on top of OpenStack

With every new release, more and more automation is coming in OpenStack, which is making it the first choice for many.

No Vendor Lock-In

Since OpenStack is an open standard and most IT vendors support OpenStack, there is no single-vendor lock-in for either hardware or software. Having an open standard also creates a large ecosystem that spans and scales, making it highly cost-effective for customers.

Evidence Of OpenStack Adoption

Lydia Leong, vice president in the Technology and Service Provider Group at Gartner, was right on target with her prediction in September 2012 that OpenStack was 18 to 24 months from real commercial adoption. “OpenStack seems to be on the cusp of that tipping point. OpenStack is truly becoming a business,” she said.

What's more the OpenStack Summit in Atlanta in May drew 4,500 attendees, a 50 percent increase from the summit in Hong Kong six months earlier. Two years ago, the first OpenStack conference attracted about 1,200 attendees.

The user survey for the 2014 Summit contains a significant amount of information, such as business drivers, deployment types and industries, including:

  • Five of the seven largest telcos attended and the top three (AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast) talked about their deployments.
  • About a third of the Fortune 100 was represented, as users, developers, operators, vendors or participants.
  • Thirty-nine percent of commercial banks in the Fortune 500 were present, including the top three. Six of the top eight were present.
  • More than two dozen users spoke at the Summit, in keynotes, solo presentations, panels and vendor sessions.

Presentations and videos from the summit are available to access on the web site.

OpenStack Job Trends

According to the OpenStack Foundation, which cited the job search website as its source, the average yearly salary of an OpenStack engineer is US$133,000, compared to $98,000 for a non-OpenStack cloud engineer. The number of OpenStack engineering jobs posted this year was double the number of similar job postings last year, according to a blog entry by Claire Massey, an OpenStack Foundation marketing coordinator. She cited a BSA Global Cloud Scorecard report that predicted that 14 million cloud jobs will be created by 2015.

Industry Vendors

The top three vendors in every hardware category support OpenStack and the list of other vendors is growing every quarter. Cisco Systems in April announced a $1 billion investment in its Cisco Cloud Services based on OpenStack. Hewlett-Packard recently rebranded its cloud portfolio to Helion and announced a $1 billion commitment to developing its cloud based on OpenStack.

  • Top 3 router vendors: Cisco, Juniper, Alcatel
  • Top 3 x86 vendors: HP, Dell, IBM
  • Top 3 blade vendors: HP, Cisco, IBM
  • Top 3 Linux vendors: Red Hat, Canonical, SUSE
  • Top 3 switch vendors: Cisco, Juniper, HP
  • Top 3 Storage vendors: EMC, IBM, NetApp
  • Top 3 Hypervisors: KVM, Xen (both Open source) ESXi -VMware

OpenStack Vendors

There are several companies that offer services around OpenStack. Their services vary to a certain degree and some of them are taking the same source code and staying close to the original version. Nick Chase, technical marketing manager at Mirantis, noted: "It's important that OpenStack distribution vendors not stray too far from the original code, or 'trunk', for two reasons. Besides the fact that one of the main reasons to come to OpenStack is the lack of vendor lock-in—that's a given—it's crucial for other vendors, such as storage and network providers, who need to be absolutely certain their drivers will work with any OpenStack distribution."

In addition, companies that alter the OpenStack code to the point where it no longer can be called OpenStack—effectively “wandering off the reservation”—will be missing out on this massive community of open source innovation, the reason why they became involved in OpenStack in the first place. The OpenStack foundation tracks the companies that support OpenStack.

The following are some of OpenStack vendors (not ranked in any order) that have a clearly defined road map of their OpenStack-based or supported products and services:

  • IBM
  • Mirantis
  • VMware
  • Rackspace
  • Red Hat
  • Piston Cloud Computing Co.
  • Canonical
  • HP
  • Cloudscaling
  • SUSE
  • Nebula
  • Metacloud

OpenStack Code Contributions

Companies are encouraged to make code contributions to OpenStack. A visual representation of code contributions to OpenStack will show that several well-known companies such as HP, Red Hat, Mirantis, Rackspace and IBM, among others, are making contributions in just about every release.

OpenStack vs. OpenNebula vs. Eucalytpus vs. CloudStack

A community analysis project was completed in January that offers an excellent representation of the various level of activity between all three technologies in IaaS, and OpenStack was named the leader in every area listed. OpenNebula, Eucalyptus and CloudStack all use the Amazon API ecosystem.

In the next 12 to 18 months, more companies are going to be making the effort in learning more about the advantages of migration their IT services to some kind of cloud technology. A part of this process certainly will be around OpenStack—the momentum is obvious and the adoption is in full-force.

David Darrough is an Account Manager-Data Center Education/Professional Services for Skyline-ATS, a Cisco Certified Learning Solutions Partner and Cisco Gold Hardware partner headquartered in Campbell, Calif.

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