What is OpenStack and why does it matter?

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We heard quite a bit about the OpenStack project last year, and if you haven’t heard about it yet, I expect that you will as this year progresses and its popularity rises. OpenStack is positioned to take off, and I think we’ll soon find it situated among other buzz-worthy technologies such as Hadoop and “big data.”

What is OpenStack?

When I first started looking into OpenStack, I was confused about what it really was, and you may have been as well at first glance. What OpenStack does is provide a cloud management infrastructure, and surprisingly, it’s written entirely in Python. But that being said, it is still very complex and has a lot of moving pieces under the hood.

OpenStack is basically a management tool, and it runs on virtualization solutions like VMware, KVM and Microsoft Hyper-V. In other words, while OpenStack is a cloud infrastructure, it isn’t a complete cloud solution – it’s only a part of one, and doesn’t really distinguish itself as a specific type of cloud. In the end, it’s all about how it is deployed, whether it uses a public IaaS, an all in-house solution or a mixture.

Openstack releases go on a roughly six-month release cycle, and are more known by their release name instead of version numbers. For example, the latest production-ready release from October 2013 is known as “Havana,” and the next release will be named “Icehouse,” which is expected in the spring of 2014.

Does it have credibility?

Early last year, OpenStack vendor Mirantis made a lot of noise when it claimed that PayPal was switching from VMware to OpenStack. While the headline wasn’t entirely true as stated, PayPal is in fact switching from VMware to OpenStack where it makes sense — where strict PCI compliance is required, for example. So you can say that OpenStack does have a nod from PayPal.

Red Hat sees a lot of promise in OpenStack and is one of its biggest supporters. Think of OpenStack just like you might think about Linux. Red Hat has taken the open source Linux operating system and has made quite a bit of money selling services based on providing support and services for it.

To ease the pain of getting OpenStack set up, Red Hat has been working hard on providing some good tools to help get things running smoothly. In December of last year, Red Hat and Dell announced a partnership to provide organizations with a OpenStack-based private cloud solution. This is pretty significant because if a company were to start from scratch, it could be a pretty big investment. But having two well-known companies combining to provide an enterprise-class solution makes is a more palatable option for companies.

And don’t forget about IBM. Earlier this year, IBM announced that their cloud products would have core OpenStack bits. It’s difficult to ignore anything that IBM gets involved with, so that’s another important backer for OpenStack and one that I think will provide some momentum for the project for some time to come.

Based on the numbers, OpenStack has of momentum. Plus, it’s a huge project with several companies and developers involved. But it’s currently at a critical crossing point, and its next moves could either turn 2014 into a break out year, or make it the year that OpenStack fades out as just another fad.

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Marco Shaw

Marco Shaw is an IT consultant working in Canada. He has been working in the IT industry for over 12 years. He was awarded the Microsoft MVP award for his contributions to the Windows PowerShell community for 5 consecutive years (2007-2011). He has co-authored a book on Windows PowerShell, contributed to Microsoft Press and Microsoft TechNet magazine, and also contributed chapters for other books such as Microsoft System Center Operations Manager and Microsoft SQL Server. He has spoken at Microsoft TechDays in Canada and at TechMentor in the United States. He currently holds the GIAC GSEC and RHCE certifications, and is actively working on others.