Infrastructure

OpenStack: The myth of the middle

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wpid-thumbnail-c4ec7311eb8a1ba8102e0d75e2e0f195-500x376The middle is where self-declared reasonable minds gather to split the difference between seemingly irresolvable extremes.

And so it is with OpenStack.

Back in the wild-West days of Diablo and Essex, agile app dev ardents attracted by the open alternative of OpenStack had two choices: build it yourself (DIY), or sign up with Rackspace. Polar opposites in just about every regard.

Then, a wave of startups pledged to offer a middle ground, populated with software distributions and appliances to simplify the path from zero to OpenStack.

While the promise of this new-found middle ground was grand, it hasn’t quite panned out. Today, the only distributions gaining any traction are primarily from Mirantis and Red Hat, the former fueled by crafty strategy and dogged determination, the latter fueled by a massive RHEL install base and account control.

Everyone else? They’re on the sidelines or in the locker room, wondering what happened or planning a second act.

Here’s what happened:

Most enterprises don’t want to operate OpenStack. They just don’t. I’ll couch that by saying very few actually do, but they comprise a small minority who are making an enormous investment in talent to achieve this feat. Maybe this changes some day, but I really don’t see it.

Very few enterprises want to learn OpenStack, build it, and operate it. But … they DO want to consume it. They see the advantages of a stable, solid, and open core for their cloud platform, giving them a candy store of options for testing, evaluating and eventually adopting new technologies. Today’s OpenStack—at long last—makes this possible.

Our collective experience has taught us—painfully in some cases—that most enterprise buyers want OpenStack without having to touch OpenStack. So, companies with hosted offerings (including private) and managed services (both on prem and hosted) are ringing up sales.

Customers with the engineering chops and the operations expertise to build and run their own clouds may be just as likely to roll their own OpenStack as they are to select a distribution. These sophisticated buyers might need services to get going, but eventually, they’re going to paddle their own canoe.

What’s really going on here? I think most enterprises that “get” agile realize their success rests solely on differentiation through application innovation, not through an investment in infrastructure and operations. It’s a step-function break with the models of the past. Let someone else handle the iron; we’ll build applications that differentiate our businesses and help us compete.

The landscape I’m painting is one of the reasons why IBM and Blue Box chose each other. We agree fundamentally that distributions and appliances—the middle choices—inherit a murky future. Customers just aren’t responding to them.

A study conducted by Technology Business Research1 proves that the approach embraced by IBM and Blue Box is working. For two years now, IBM has been the #1 preferred OpenStack vendor among mid-to-large enterprises.

That same study also shows that IBM is #1 in private cloud delivery methodology, both hosted and on prem. It confirms that we lead adoption at all three layers of private cloud (infrastructure, platform and software), and it shows that we lead private cloud adoption in all three global geographies (APAC, EMEA, Americas).

We happen to think this is pretty good stuff.

There’s been silly talk of a consolidation in OpenStack. Consolidation is what happens when there’s excess commodity capacity in a market, and players with strong balance sheets use their brawn to remove capacity from the market, stabilize prices and improve margins for the survivors.

What’s happening in OpenStack is the opposite. Established vendors are buying innovative startups with useful technologies to complete their product lineups and compete with a complete product and service offering in a rapidly expanding market.

Over the next 12 months, the OpenStack landscape will become more crowded with new entrants in emerging spaces like containers, big data and data center management. The challenge ahead for our team is to continue innovating with new services that help our customers deploy applications and iterate faster than their competitors. That’s precisely what we’re doing.

In closing, if you’re looking at OpenStack and wondering how to get started, we’d love to talk with you. And if you’re an operations engineer interested in working with the best team in cloud, we’re hiring. We’re here to win.

1 Private Cloud Customer Research 1H15, Cloud Business Quarterly, by Technology Business Research, Inc.

Jesse Proudman is the founder and CTO of @bluebox, an IBM company.


Distinguished Engineer and CTO of Blue Box, IBM Cloud

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