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OpenStack private cloud deployments spell channel opportunity

Customers across a broad range of industries are growing increasingly interested in deploying OpenStack private cloud technology but often lack the in-house expertise required.

OpenStack, an open sourced cloud computing platform for building public and private clouds, is gaining traction and creating a role for channel partners.

According to the ninth OpenStack User Survey, which polled more than 1,400 OpenStack Foundation members globally, the first two months of 2017 saw 44% more OpenStack deployments compared with 2016. The survey also found that the median OpenStack user runs 61% to 80% of their infrastructure on OpenStack, with 44% of users running 81% to 100% on OpenStack. This indicates "strong adoption throughout the enterprise, not only on emerging infrastructure and new applications, but also for legacy systems that are being moved to OpenStack," the report noted.

Specifically, 35% of respondents said they are interacting with OpenStack Private Cloud -- a finding that bodes well for channel firms interested in helping customers develop private clouds on OpenStack.

What's fueling OpenStack private cloud deployments?

The appeal of OpenStack is that the platform has "really matured," said Bryan Thompson, general manager of OpenStack Private Cloud at Rackspace. Deploying OpenStack on private clouds is ideal because of the ease of migration, he noted.

Bryan Thompson, general manager, OpenStack Private Cloud, RackspaceBryan Thompson

Companies of all sizes are thinking in terms of a multi-cloud world because they want to embrace the agility, speed and self-service features that cloud technologies promise, "but the leap to public cloud [in general] may be a bridge too far," Thompson observed. Migrating in a private cloud context might be the right form factor for certain workloads when organizations have considerations for where data needs to reside, security and compliance, he said.

Ease of migration may not be as conducive for consuming public cloud right now, he added. "Private cloud enables [organizations] to still leverage benefits without fundamentally rearchitecting workloads not just in an enterprise play, but for midmarkets and SMBs [small and medium-sized businesses] living in a multi-cloud world, too."

Juan Orlandini, chief architect, DatalinkJuan Orlandini

Juan Orlandini, chief architect at Datalink, a division of Insight, sees three significant benefits of using OpenStack, the first being adoption by the open source community, which he said is seen by many as innovating faster than traditional closed-source vendors. "The emerging DevOps community is highly in favor of open source projects and will drive much adoption of this type of technology," Orlandini said.

The second benefit is access to new innovations driven by the open source community, while the third benefit is the perceived lower costs than traditional virtualization infrastructures. The lower costs pertain mostly to large organizations that can afford to have highly skilled and highly compensated staff, he noted. For smaller organizations, when you factor in the expense of training staff on a highly complicated and rapidly evolving technology stack, the cost benefits are dubious, he said.

OpenStack skills gap creates a channel opportunity

Benefits aside, OpenStack's complexity and the scarcity of talent remain big challenges for companies, Thompson said. Consequently, developers, architects and people with overall OpenStack expertise are in high demand. This is where channel firms can be successful.

It is expensive for a company to recruit and retain this talent in-house, as well as provide the training and resources needed to keep their expertise up to date in the changing ecosystem.
Bryan Thompsongeneral manager of OpenStack Private Cloud, Rackspace

"It is expensive for a company to recruit and retain this talent in-house, as well as provide the training and resources needed to keep their expertise up to date in the changing ecosystem," Thompson said. "By working with a managed service company, customers can tap the resources of their provider rather than sourcing this expertise independently."

Orlandini agreed that managing OpenStack requires a significant level of expertise. "This expertise is difficult to come by both in the sense of an individual being able to 'get it,' as well as an organization that can get those individuals," he said. "Because this is such a high-demand skill, most small to midsize organizations cannot attract or retain the talent necessary to effectively manage OpenStack."

Benefits of OpenStack ecosystem

OpenStack adoption spans industries and company sizes. Rackspace has customers from several vertical industries consuming OpenStack. The OpenStack Foundation survey found a wide breadth in customer types valuing their OpenStack projects as well. "Users of every organizational size and industry find value in OpenStack," according to the report, with 32% of respondents having 10,000 employees or more and 25% having fewer than 100 employees.

Thompson thinks partners can capitalize on not just OpenStack but its "significant ecosystem," meaning all the components that go into adoption and growth of the platform. Additionally, partners can find opportunities in helping customers optimize private cloud deployments.

"Up the stack, there's such a breadth of options as companies embrace OpenStack and cloud. They're looking to embrace new OpenStack-leading technologies" so partners can build practices around helping customers deploy apps on top of containers, Docker and Kubernetes, and leverage platform as a service, he said.

"There's a big ecosystem play there where [partners] can help with the transitioning and migrating of workloads and thinking about adopting these new agile development methodologies," aimed toward cloud while shifting from traditional workflows, Thompson said.

To do this, partners need to invest in their services to either host, manage or execute OpenStack on behalf of a customer, Orlandini said. "OpenStack is most successful in larger implementations, and thus, getting resources and footprint at scale is very important."

How to build OpenStack expertise 

Partners, of course, also need to obtain the skills and resources they need to succeed with OpenStack projects. There are a number of OpenStack training firms and capabilities they can draw from, Thompson said.

There's no shortage to information and recourses publicly available to learn about OpenStack and other open source technologies, "but honestly, [the best training] comes from hands-on experience," he added. "There are major [OpenStack Foundation] releases every six months, and in some cases, we have core and mature services and peripheral services constantly changing, so it takes a lot of hands-on training."

The open source philosophy is to provide a plethora of resources and public training that can either be consumed online or through the Linux Foundation, OpenStack Foundation or in Kubernetes user forums, he said. Rackspace is also a big provider of OpenStack advanced network training, Thompson added. If a value-added reseller (VAR) wants to demonstrate proficiency, they should also consider certifications.

Alternatives to OpenStack private cloud deployments

Customers also have platform options besides OpenStack for developing private clouds. Private clouds can be built on many virtualization stacks, Orlandini said. He and Thompson concurred that the most common option is VMware-based environments. "However, other players, such as Nutanix, are beginning to gain traction as well," he noted.

In terms of future prospects for OpenStack adoption in the SMB segment, he said that providers such as Red Hat "are taking the science experiment out of running an OpenStack environment. As these offerings mature, the entry and maintenance costs will become much more appealing for SMBs."

"OpenStack, by nature and velocity, will be easy to consume over time," Thompson said. "There will be ways to more easily deploy it on a smaller scale in the SMB space. ... Think of the early days of VMware: You'll see the same growth where expertise and adoption become easier." The barriers for adoption will be lowered for smaller customers as more expertise becomes available, he said. "It's a VAR and ecosystem play. All technologies you can stand up alongside it will continue to expand."

This was last published in January 2018

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