OpenStack: New in the SDN market

OpenStack imageThe shift towards software-defined networking (SDN) is an outgrowth of data center virtualization where networking is provided as a service. OpenStack is one IaaS offering that has been put forward to aid this process.

The OpenStack initiative was founded in July 2010 by Rackspace and NASA. Starting with a small group of 25 companies and a handful of developers it has grown into a sizeable contributor to the networking marketplace. In September 2012, it launched as an independent Foundation with over 180 participating companies. “Since its inception, we knew a foundation was the ultimate goal for OpenStack,” said Lew Moorman, President of Rackspace.

The purpose of the OpenStack Foundation is to provide a set of shared resources for companies wanting to take an open source approach to SDN and cloud computing on standard hardware. New releases are shipped every six months and the source code is available under an Apache 2.0 license. The software — Foundation membership — are free. In exchange companies and individuals contributing to the Foundation donate their engineering talent in preparing and testing the releases. Cisco, for example, has a team of salaried staff working on OpenStack coding. Many engineers also contribute to the Foundation in their spare time.

Technical committees co-ordinate the projects and releases, leaving the 24 board members to get on with the business of supporting the Foundation in a non-technical capacity. “Our priorities and vision for the Foundation include strengthening the ecosystem, accelerating adoption and empowering the community to deliver the best cloud software out there,” said Alan Clark, Chairman.

Many major companies have released distributions on OpenStack, such as Red Hat, which currently has a distribution in preview. These companies provide their own support for enterprise customers using their distributions who contract directly with them and not with the Foundation.

“Red Hat has been actively involved in OpenStack and has joined the Foundation as a Platinum Member to help drive the success of the technology,” said Brian Stevens, CTO and Vice President, Worldwide Engineering at Red Hat. “Red Hat is also underway in delivering the industry’s only enterprise-ready OpenStack distribution incorporating Red Hat’s trusted support, ecosystem and technology expertise.”

OpenStack is a relatively new initiative that competes with fully-featured cloud management solutions such as VMware’s vCloud suite. VMware’s offering provides enterprise grade 24/7 support and integrates virtualization, cloud infrastructure and management portfolio. While some see OpenStack as a possible replacement for the more mature offering Gartner disagrees that displacement is a risk in the medium term. At the moment the functionality offered is relatively basic although this is expected to improve in future releases. Gartner recommends that companies looking to move to a new cloud platform carry out competitive assessment as they would for any other solution. Currently, the analysts say, OpenStack is best suited to organizations with the engineering resources to tweak and contribute to the releases, and a high risk tolerance.

Concerns about true interoperability may also stem from other open source SDN projects such as Citrix CloudStack, now an Apache Software Foundation project providing a turnkey solution featuring many infrastructure as a service elements including compute orchestration, user and account management, a native API, and resource accounting.

As more and more of our digital lives are served out of the cloud, there are opportunities for the cloud to take on multi-data centre attributes and extend over branch offices or retail outlets. “The change in model means it is faster to develop apps and these have a lower cost,” said Lew Tucker, VP/CTO of Cloud Computing at Cisco and the Vice Chair of the OpenStack Foundation. “We are also seeing portability of apps across multiple clouds and data centres which can make them more efficient.”

Tucker believes that it is in the interest of all industry partners to have new software to build a public or private cloud. “We have much more to benefit from working together than by being at odds with each other,” he said. “It’s been a great experience working with the Foundation.”

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