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OpenStack: The Road Ahead

Just a few weeks after releasing the seventh major version, Grizzly we sat down with the OpenStack Foundation’s Executive Director, Jonathan Bryce. This interview appeared in May's edition of JAX Magazine.

Unless you‘ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, you’ve probably heard of OpenStack – the collaborative cloud infrastructure project that has got many vendors swooning. Naturally, it can be hard to quell expectation with names such as IBM, HP and Red Hat all at the table, but has OpenStack finally overcome the hype as users step into the limelight?

From its open source beginnings as a joint effort by Rackspace Hosting and NASA to the sprawling project we see today, OpenStack has been on quite the ride since its creation in 2010. Its bold mission statement is as follows: “to produce the ubiquitous open source cloud computing platform that will meet the needs of public and private cloud regardless of size, by being simple to implement and massively scalable.” But crucially, it wants to provide all this on standard hardware, nothing proprietary. 

Four months on from its inception, the first release Austin arrived, with two core components that still provide the backbone of the project today – OpenStack Compute (codenamed Nova) and OpenStack Storage (Swift). From this point, Rackspace committed to a six month release cycle to introduce newer components, as well as updating what had come before. It wasn’t long before the big boys came knocking, liking what they saw, with Ubuntu and Red Hat making glances, adopting the technology in their distributions.

The last 12 months in particular have cemented OpenStack’s place as one of the most exciting projects around. Red Hat and IBM have both put all their chips on the infrastructure project, while at the same time, the number of committers has risen dramatically too. It’s a truly global project too attracting over 9,000 members from 100 countries in 850 different organisations. 

Sustaining this rapid growth, both from a community and technical perspective, must seem like a logistical nightmare for Jonathan Bryce, the OpenStack Foundation’s Executive Director and his 12 full-time staff. Established fully in 2012 after Rackspace relinquished control of the project, the non-profit entity ensures that the OpenStack standard is met, while actively seeking to grow the community. Making sure that OpenStack keeps to its six month release cycle isn’t exactly a breeze either.

Bryce, a founder of the Rackspace Cloud, also leads the direction of OpenStack Summit, a bi-annual get-together to lift the covers of their hard work. The idea is to let developers and companies showcase how they are using OpenStack, but also to discuss how to move forward with a planned design summit to flesh out the parts of the next release. 

The state of the stack

April’s event, alongside the arrival of OpenStack’s 7th version release Grizzly, was the biggest yet and for Bryce, the Summit was a tremendous success. 

"Going into it about a month ago, we were expecting around 2,000 and ended up 2,600 show up," he told JAX Magazine. Over 200 major updates were made by around 500 developers across OpenStack’s projects. 

But it wasn’t the stats that shone through for Bryce, but the customers who were willing to showcase OpenStack in production. Bloomberg, Best Buy and Comcast all joined Bryce on stage at Tuesday’s keynote to talk specifics. 

The biggest transition a fledging project has to make is to go from a thriving open source project with many contributors to one embedded firmly in an enterprise environment. OpenStack in particular has been high on community, but until now has very little to show in terms of deployments. Now that Rackspace have handed over the keys to the community, companies are now willing to step forward and show how they are using the project, which shows a great leap towards acceptance.

"I didn't realise how many users are already doing testing and in some cases deployments, of the bare metal components of OpenStack,” he told us.

"They [press and analysts] were surprised just how much people were willing to talk about what they are doing with it, and specifics. That's great for the community to hear as well," he added.

“Comcast did a live demo on stage with their new next generation cablebox that is backended by an OpenStack cluster. So we were watching TV and pulling up these IPTV applications and looking at stores and DVR content and all of this stuff from a cablebox. That was really neat to see things like that are not normally how you think about consuming OpenStack through a television box."

From unexpected use cases to ones that were nailed on, Red Hat detailed their new initiative with Hortonworks and Mirantis to combine Hadoop with OpenStack in Project Savanna. Big data and analytics are big use cases for the operating system.

"Hadoop gives you scale-out processing so it makes a lot of sense to have some sort of tie-in to get scaleout infrastructure underneath that," explains Bryce. "Savanna is sort of a formalisation of some things that have been happening in the last 6-8 months."

Does it live or die on Big Red?

Red Hat’s unwavering commitment throughout the project’s lifespan can’t be ignored. CTO Brian Stevens, who also sits on OpenStack’s technical committee, told us at the time that he thought “the future's been already written, and it's going to be OpenStack.”

True to Stevens word, Red Hat have massively ramped up their code contributions and are one of the main drivers. Red Hat are comfortably the main committer for the latest release, bringing 11.9% of the total made in Grizzly, which is double the next two contributors in Rackspace and IBM. 

Is there a danger that Red Hat could dominate the development process and OpenStack market? Could Red Hat in theory hold something back to give them the edge over competitors? They could also back out in the future, leaving the project with a sizeable role to fill, although this seems extremely unlikely as they prep their OpenStack distribution and the investment pumped in thus far. At the April event, Red Hat also told onlookers how they were training their staff for OpenStack support.

Bryce believes that Red Hat’s firm commitment to OpenStack is ultimately a good thing for the project at large, because they are “extremely committed” to pushing it all back into the codebase. 

"People say how do you keep them [OpenStack Foundation members] all aligned – how can that work? Every one of them has been committed to putting that work back into the codebase, so they're all working off the same bits. I think at this point, they realise that the community as a whole is moving a lot faster than any of them could by splitting off."

"To have Red Hat come out and say that they [are committed], as one of the largest contributors to the project and a major force in the enterprise, is a really strong statement."

Back in March, Big Blue unveiled their rethinking of cloud services based on OpenStack. It appears to only be a matter of time before others up their contributions.

The sound of the police

Keeping tabs on every vendor involved in OpenStack looks like a daunting task for the OpenStack Foundation, and the dreaded word ‘interoperability’ just won’t go away. Fragmentation was a big concern for those in attendance at the OpenStack Summit. With the number of committers growing, is deviation inevitable?

"I think it's one of those things we could talk about for hours and I have," Bryce tells us before adding that interoperability "means something different to everyone" and is "an easy catchphrase for people to latch onto."

Just what constitutes an OpenStack instance and what is outlawed currently. OpenStack’s trademark program in broad terms states that if something wants to be called OpenStack, it has to be running a certain set of components that aren’t any older than a specific number of versions behind. All this has to be exposed in the OpenStack API to give the base level of interoperability, so starting servers and assigning IP’s for example.

I press the Executive Director on recent news articles that said the OpenStack Foundation were set to clampdown on those with incompatible clouds. 

"What we're looking to do over the coming year in addition to the trademark policy in what you need to be running, is also creating an external validation test suite," he revealed. "You can point it at an API endpoint and it will run through the core functions and verify that they behave as expected."

Bryce continued, saying that "there will be differences between different OpenStack implementations" but "that’s one of the core strengths" of the projects.  

"What's important is that it's not entirely different environment that is a total rewrite. That's what we've been working towards and what we're beginning to strengthen, making sure that people can target OpenStack and as they move between OpenStack environments, that they are not starting from ground zero."

On the right trajectory

How the OpenStack Foundation deals with these concerns will ultimately determine the project’s success and it’s clear that Bryce and the OpenStack Foundation know this. Balancing the needs of the community vs the vendor can be difficult, but Bryce believes that those at the heart of development make the right decision for the project itself.

"One of the most heated discussions I saw was in a Storage session and there were two guys standing up, having a *very* heated conversation and they actually worked for the same company," he joked.

"At a technical level, it's less about who writes the paycheck and more about what the developers think is right for their particular piece of the project."

When asked what are the biggest challenges for OpenStack moving forward, Bryce admitted that sustaining the level of growth would be “one of the things we have to stay on top of.” On the technical side, he said the plan was “to make a shift from loading features up to improving what's already there,” something which Grizzly tackles.

Off the bat of Grizzly, OpenStack has shrugged off many bugbears and begun on the road to enterprise acceptance. With Red Hat leading that charge, it looks like they are on the right track, especially at safeguarding the OpenStack trademark and managing nuances between implementations. The community is in good hands we believe.

This interview appeared in May's edition of JAX Magazine. For other issues, click here

OpenStack Summit images courtesy of ahockley

Chris Mayer

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