The State of Play

Opinion: OpenStack celebrates third birthday – now it’s time to grow up

Chris Mayer

No one can deny the strides OpenStack has made in 36 months, but are the real challenges just around the corner?

This past Friday, the sprawling collaborative cloud platform project OpenStack marked its third birthday, with 35 celebratory meetups across the globe.

For a project so young, the amount of press coverage this event got (this article included) was astounding. Yet it’s not hard to see why when you consider the number of heavyweight vendors and contributors now involved in each biannual release.

Since the project’s formative years, where Rackspace and NASA paved the way, the number of committers has grown rapidly and the individual OpenStack components themselves have blossomed.

According to the stats published by the OpenStack Foundation on Friday, OpenStack’s first release Austin in October 2010 saw just 20 people play a part in the launch. In April’s Grizzly release, this figure was 50 times as big, standing at an impressive 1,000 contributors. Similarly the lines of code in OpenStack has skyrocketed, from just 30,000 at inception to 1.3 million this July.

Adapting to keep this growth going must seem like a logistical nightmare, but the creation of the OpenStack Foundation in 2012, as a centralised body to deal with the entire project infrastructure, has ensured that OpenStack has fulfilled its early promise, the rewards of which are just beginning to appear.

Equally important for the project is the number of enterprise clients stepping forward to show how they use the project in production. Back at Grizzly Summit, Best Buy and Bloomberg and Comcast all took to the stage to explain how.

The reveal from CERN earlier this month that the Large Hadron Collider research process was underpinned by OpenStack certainly demonstrates the growing maturity of the project. HP’s Elizabeth Krumbach Joseph debunks the ‘OpenStack isn’t used in production anywhere myth’ too.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to rattle off my list of Fortune 500 companies who use it, but it seems like the press for that hasn’t quite penetrated as far in the industry as we may like,” she said on the OpenStack blog.

To suggest OpenStack is mature however is way wide of the mark. The balance of power in the project still lies with those who have the deepest pockets. As The Register’s Tim Phillips duly points out, in the past six months, “Red Hat, Rackspace, IBM, Mirantis and HP dominate the commits” accounting for 63 per cent of the total commits made in that timel. Is OpenStack really as diverse as the Foundation claim?

Red Hat have consistently been one of OpenStack’s biggest backers, with the largest number of individuals contributing. IBM and HP have both made it known their future cloud projects will be powered by OpenStack. Dell got cold feet in May, deciding to go it alone.

Although unlikely, is there not a danger that one of the big boys could theoretically break off on their own with a fork when they feel the time is right? Or could they hold something back from being pushed upstream?

OpenStack Director Jonathan Bryce didn’t seem phased by this prospect when he spoke to JAX Magazine back in May.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Keeping all the vendors on the same page has also been a concern for the OpenStack Foundation, ensuring all OpenStack distributions and services meet the standard and are interoperable. To combat this, the Foundation say they are looking to create an external validation test suite to ensure that products run and behave as expected.

Plenty of commentators in recent days have picked up on another sore point for OpenStack – the complete lack of Amazon-compatibility. Some, like Simon Wardley, believe that the early decision to differentiate from the competition could ultimately be its undoing.

Today we find that OpenStack has a significant developer and vendor ecosystem but is categorised by a collective prisoner dilemma. Forget fidelity with Amazon there isn’t even fidelity between OpenStack distributions and no well established mechanism of doing this (though first steps have been made)…

OpenStack IMHO failed to follow the path of pragmatism and give users what they’ve been screaming for – a market of public AWS clones.

As Rackspace’s Jim Curry adroitly puts it “OpenStack is no longer a toddler. Today, it’s three years old. And like all preschoolers, it’s making amazing strides and having an occasional fall.”

The strides the project has made in three short years is impressive but has OpenStack gotten over “the terrible twos” just yet. Is the real teething phase just around the corner?

The ecosystem is in rude health, in terms of size and innovative projects, but how the OpenStack Foundation deal with these array of challenges will ultimately decide who wins this open cloud war. A winner hasn’t been crowned yet.

In any case, Happy 3rd Birthday OpenStack – here’s to the next three!

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