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Convenience trumps 'open' in clouds and data centers

Sorry OpenStack and Open Compute, we're not all Facebook

Comment Call it OpenStack. Call it Open Compute. Call it OpenAnything-you-want, but the reality is that the dominant cloud today is Amazon Web Services, with Microsoft Azure an increasingly potent runner-up.

Both decidedly closed.

Not that cloud-hungry companies care. While OpenStack parades a banner of “no lock in!” and Open Compute lets enterprises roll-their-own data centres, what enterprises really want is convenience, and public clouds offer that in spades. That’s driving Amazon Web Services to a reported $50bn valuation, and calling into question private cloud efforts.

For those enterprises looking to go cloud – but not too cloudy – OpenStack feels like a safe bet. It has a vibrant and growing community, lots of media hype, and brand names like HP and Red Hat backing it with considerable engineering resources.

No wonder it’s regularly voted the top open-source cloud.

The problem, however, is that “open” isn’t necessarily what people want from a cloud.

While there are indications that OpenStack is catching on (see this Red Hat-sponsored report from IDG), there are far clearer signs that OpenStack remains a mass of conflicting community-sponsored sub-projects that make the community darling far too complex.

As one would-be OpenStack user, David Laube, head of infrastructure at Packet, describes:

Over the course of a month, what became obvious was that a huge amount of the documentation I was consuming was either outdated or fully inaccurate.

This forced me to sift through an ever greater library of documents, wiki articles, irc logs and commit messages to find the 'source of truth'.

After the basics, I needed significant python debug time just to prove various conflicting assertions of feature capability, for example 'should X work?'. It was slow going.

While Laube remains committed to OpenStack, he still laments that “the amount of resources it was taking to understand and keep pace with each project was daunting".

The problem, as Randy Bias, one of OpenStack’s pioneers, suggests, is that there is no “vanilla OpenStack” that would-be adopters rally around. This lack of a common core has led vendors to build their own scaffolding around OpenStack, leading Bias to conclude that there is always a proprietary element to OpenStack.

The question is how much you can stomach: “Dial into the right level of 'lock-in' that you are comfortable with from a strategic point of view that meets the business requirements.”

So while OpenStack-sponsored surveys regularly tout “no lock in” as the primary driver for OpenStack adoption, and Mirantis CEO Adrian Ionel insists to me that “customers routinely tell us that they chose Mirantis because there was no proprietary agenda, which means they can avoid the lock-in of traditional IT” – the reality is different...and pretty proprietary.

Things are so bad, in fact, that even Rackspace, the originator of OpenStack, now has plans to build services on top of AWS.

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