LSD explains WTF OpenStack is
Imagine a world in which you don't need to over-invest in your data centre infrastructure. A world where you can access what you need, when you need it, without worrying about capacity and being able to burst into a federated or provider's infrastructure. A world where you can scale workloads up or down - as needed - and remove them through an elastic infrastructure when they are no longer required.
That's the promise of cloud computing, and while many companies are still working on finding the right mix of technologies to enable this vision, OpenStack is gaining popularity as the cloud platform of choice in all industries and sectors. According to a 2013 IDG survey, as many as 64% of US and European IT managers are including OpenStack in their technology roadmap.
"OpenStack has become fashionable, just like cloud. Everyone wants it, but no-one knows specifically what they want to achieve with it," says Sven Lesicnik, MD of specialist open source consulting house LSD. "Even those companies that have a good idea of why they want to deploy OpenStack may not be ready for the technology."
OpenStack aims to provide a "ubiquitous open source cloud computing platform for public and private clouds", with more than 200 software, hardware and service companies involved in this open source initiative. Lesicnik explains OpenStack is the platform of the future, solving modern problems in the data centre caused by the shift in how applications scale and function in today's environments.
"It takes the traditional data centre and basically makes it virtual," he says. "OpenStack allows for software-defined networking, scaled out storage, and all of the other features that have made cloud the industry buzzword for many years. However, while the modular architecture of OpenStack can help give businesses the agility they need, it is changing the industry, ultimately making proprietary hardware and software vendors less important."
He adds the lack of understanding of how OpenStack works is hindering adoption. "Many companies want to use OpenStack for applications they weren't designed for, for example, Microsoft Exchange. OpenStack is designed to cater for workloads that can be scaled out horizontally within relatively short periods. Examples include event-driven applications such as online ticketing systems on a big-act launch day, or systems that need processing power on demand, like an online streaming service converting video formats.
Stefan Lesicnik, Technical Director at LSD, makes the comparison between traditional virtualisation technology and new technologies like OpenStack."You can make the analogy of pets vs farm animals. In traditional virtualisation we treat our systems like pets. We keep them for a long time, feed and maintain them and take them to the vet when they are sick. We do the same with our traditional monolithic applications. Farmers, on the other hand, have hundreds of similar animals. If a few didn't wake up in the morning, life goes on. With Openstack, the ideas of commodity hardware running hundreds of stateless applications are the norm, and if a server dies, life too goes on.
Until we see the mindshift in application architecture, some applications will still be suited to traditional virtualisation like Red Hat Enterprise Virtualisation.
However, he points out that the community is adapting to these requirements, and that the future will see OpenStack offering the same benefits to the "pet" workloads it currently offers the "farm" workloads. "It's early days for the technology, and it will look completely different in a year's time as the community evolves along with user needs."
This is one of the reasons LSD is investing expertise and effort into building private and public clouds and making OpenStack more accessible to South African business. "Many companies don't currently have apps that scale out horizontally, but there are many that make more sense being used in this way. For example, think of the efficiency offered by automatically bringing up a system at the end of the month, and automatically taking it down between month-end periods. Traditionally, companies would buy more servers than they needed in order to accommodate those instances where the workloads would increase. OpenStack enables elastic workloads on demand, at a much lower cost than traditional data centre infrastructure moving us towards true cloud," Lesicnik concludes.