Last week saw me travel very briefly to Portland to attend the analyst day at the OpenStack Summit (disclosure – alongside a posse of my analyst colleagues, the OpenStack foundation covered my T&E to attend the event. I’m also in the process of writing a whitepaper supported by the foundation). I spent the day in the analyst session being briefed – both by OpenStack member companies, and end-users of OpenStack. Like other attendees I was surprised by just how much this initiative has grown up – only a handful of years since it’s prescient inception by Rackspace and NASA, it’s hard to argue against the perspective that OpenStack is now a real movement – the few thousand attendees all hyped up in fist-pumping positivity about the potential of OpenStack showed that.

Fist pumping however isn’t enough – the analysts attending the event needed to see some proof that OpenStack was generating excitement beyond the vendor community. The motivation for the vendors to talk it up is obvious – quite simply, every traditional (and cloud for that matter) vendor feels sheer terror at the massive elephant in the room. Amazon Web Services is innovating at an incredibly fast rate and also owns the lion’s share of current cloud adoption. Recently VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger very publicly showed just how worried he is about the threat of AWS when he told partners that a workload lost to the Seattle-based giant is a workload lost forever – this sentient is one that is shared by vendors from across the spectrum – the old faithful’s like HP, IBM and Dell who were caught napping and need to move fast to make up for lost time. But also the public cloud vendors who, despite trying every approach they know, have yet to make real inroads to the hegemony they face in the form of AWS.

So if AWS’ competitors need to have a credible proposition in the face of AWS dominance, what is the value proposition for customers who don’t have the same commercial drivers that technology vendors do? Quite simply, the success stories from the likes of Netflix, Zynga and other adopters of cloud have shown them that the economics, gain in agility and technology benefits that cloud brings do in fact have validity for their particular situation. They may not have an appetite to consume technology in the way that pleases the public cloud fanboys, but fundamentally they want to start using “this cloud thing”.

Indeed this market opportunity – the enterprise customers who wants cloud, but in their own terms – has finally hit home as the direction to head – and the truly horrible to watch, but telling in its message, rap video from the first day of the summit tells it all – enterprise is the future for OpenStack. My assessment is that for vendors other than AWS (and perhaps Google as well), enterprise is their Hail Mary pass.

Of course talking up a focus is one thing, delivering wins in that direction is another. It was interesting that the metrics OpenStack chose to crow about to the analysts were, as my friend Paul Miller points out, somewhat softer ones that customer wins:

The message was one of steady progress (a 26% increase in patches to the code since Q4 of last year), broadening community (a 27% growth in participating companies), and growing interest (a doubling in website traffic)

In OpenStack’s defense there were some interesting case studies (Best Buy, Bloomberg, Comcast, the National Security Agency and one really interesting brand that we’re not permitted to name) but these case studies tended to still be either in lab-trial form, or else were small deployments across limited parts of the customer organization. Indeed much of the hubbub around the ill-advised and ill-timed “announcement” by Mirantis’ Boris Renski that Ebay was moving off VMware and on to OpenStack (an on-again, off-again story that would seem to have been largely fiction beyond Ebay having a bit of a play with OpenStack) was from the analyst community that is just dying to see some real-life production success at scale for OpenStack.

Josh McKenty, the ever debonair CEO of Piston suggested that there were “around” 400 production deployments of OpenStack, plus perhaps 20 times that number of pilots – while that’s positive to see, the community needs far more, far larger and far more public success stories soon. On the morning of my departure from the event I went for a short jog with Luke Tymowski an engineer from one organization using OpenStack in the wild, Canadian academic network provider Cybera. Cybera have an interesting OpenStack history, they’ve built a range of projects on OpenStack – digital sandboxes, a learning management cloud and a space weather modeling platform being some examples. Interestingly enough, a couple of their projects were built on VMware and Eucalyptus backends and both have been rebuilt on top of OpenStack – in the case of Eucalyptus because of core functional lackings, and in the case of VMware unsurprisingly because of cost. It was awesome to have a chat with him about what success they’ve seen using OpenStack but, again, as positive as the story is, it’s not the sort of thing that garners attention in the way that AWS’ alleged $600M CIA cloud does.

But there’s a bottom line here that we all need to be aware of. No matter the share it has of hip young startups, no matter how rapidly it innovates and no matter how much attention AWS gets with its spy-cloud, AWS isn’t an enterprise company. While in a recent exchange with Rackspace executive Lew Moorman, Benjamin Black, founder of Boundary and proponent for all things Amazon pointed out the fact that Amazon is moving fast and out-innovating the other players. But the very real point he ignored is that enterprises would rightly forego a significant amount of “bleeding edge” for robustness, reliability and maturity. AWS has a history in super low-margin, super low-touch service provision. There is an entire ecosystem around OpenStack that realizes that what enterprises really want is very different from that – they want rock solid guarantees, they want a traditional support model and they want a roadmap that is clear and palatable.

It is a subject of much debate of course – noted Clouderati and AWS pinup boy via his role as Netflix cloud architect Adrian Cockcroft is adamant that Amazon gets this enterprise cloud stuff:

I’m yet to be convinced – but will be watching with interest to see how AWS develops its enterprise mojo over time.

Either way, we need to accept that for enterprise, yes, their sales cycle is significantly slower than a Netflix or an Instagram. Which is just the paradox that we need to remember when opining on the chances or otherwise of OpenStack. Sure we’d all love to be able to write about massive production deployments of OpenStack today – but enterprise doesn’t work like that. What we are seeing is a slow, but steady maturing of both the product and the initiative as a whole. It’s not over, as the saying goes, until the fat lady sings. But I sense that the OpenStack summit attendees who were watching carefully saw a larger woman warming up in the wings. Watch this space

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

4 Comments
  • Ben:
    Your viewpoint is a bit more negative than I expected but OpenStack does need a sense of reality and stop hyping so much. Time to focus on the technology and not the “take over the world” message.

    One aspect about OpenStack for the enterprise that worries me is the complete lack of an upgrade process built-in and the casual nature of API changes that are not backward compatible. Rob Hirschfeld is leading this charge but I am not sure the community is really listening.

  • As long as the OpenStack Summit is more about development than deployment you know the uptake, whether in the enterprise space or not, still has a long way to go. If the success of OpenStack is going to happen in the enterprise space then it has to get a whole lot easier to deploy. Nebula and Piston are headed down the easy to deploy road with their OpenStack offerings. Then there is the issue of workloads…cloud era vs. legacy. Different environments and different approaches to running apps. VMware dominates the market for running legacy apps in virtualized enterprise environments…at a price. VMware knows it must stretch its reach to cloud era apps running in hybrid cloud environments. We shall soon see how well they execute on that and at what price. Over time the cost of running traditional enterprise data centers is going to become unsustainable. Going for agile compute infrastructure based on OpenStack or CloudStack or Eucalyptus will be next assignment for enterprise IT. Over the next 3-to-5 years the winners will emerge and all app development and IT operations will happen in the cloud, either their own or in a hybrid relationship with a public provider. It is a fun time for OpenStack but the real work of deployment has yet to get seriously underway in the enterprise. BTW, if VMware is member of OpenStack, what if anything, did the company bring to this OpenStack Summit?

  • I’m not convinced that what enterprises wanted yesterday (“rock solid guarantees, a traditional support model and a roadmap that is clear and palatable”) is what they’ll want tomorrow. As much as AWS is moving towards the enterprise, I see enterprises moving towards Amazon.

  • Minor correction in that Josh McKenty is the CTO of Piston Cloud now. Jim Morrisroe took over as CEO some time towards the end of last year.

    Ironically I see Pivotal (publicly launched today) helping drive the adoption of OpenStack in the enterprise.

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