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OpenStack services, distro opportunities open for IT solution providers

Challenges arise for IT shops introducing OpenStack into legacy environments, but solution providers can help by providing distros and services.

OpenStack is seeing increasing use by IT shops. But building a private cloud with the open source cloud platform is no easy task. This is good news for solution providers, who can make money by offering their own distribution of the software and/or by providing professional services.

"What draws people to OpenStack is the fact that it's open source. It's an alternative to proprietary platforms. You can pick and choose the different projects and modules that you want and, if you desire, you can modify the code to do what you want," explained Al Sadowski, research director, service providers, at 451 Research. He said cost is also an adoption driver, because enterprises don't have to pay for expensive software licenses. However, if organizations don't have the necessary skills or staff, then they end up paying for costly developers to help them through the process.

Therein lies the opportunity for IT solution providers. "The question customers have is how to introduce the new technology into the legacy environment. OpenStack is relatively complex. It's made up of a number of projects. It doesn't have the coherence of VMware. It doesn't come from one vendor. The challenge is not so much bringing in the technology; it's, 'How do I architect it to suit my business needs?'" said Francesco Paola, CEO of Solinea, a San Francisco-based software and services company.

Adrian Ionel, CEO of Mirantis, based in Mountain View, Calif., agreed. "The biggest problem has been getting OpenStack to work in the first place, because it consists of different modules that have a lot of variability and need to be configured the right way and properly deployed on the hardware and network layer."

The opportunities

The challenges don't end once OpenStack is installed. Colin McNamara, chief cloud architect and director of cloud practice of solution provider Nexus, a Dimension Data Company based in Valencia, Calif., said that many of Nexus' customers build OpenStack clouds to support their development teams -- but that doesn't mean developers jump onboard right away. "If the IT organization installs the private cloud platform, the real challenge is getting the development teams to actually use it, getting that integration done and adjusting the processes to incorporate private cloud," he said.

If the IT organization installs the private cloud platform, the real challenge is getting the development teams to actually use it, getting that integration done and adjusting the processes to incorporate private cloud.
Colin McNamarachief cloud architect and director of cloud practice of Nexus

This is a common problem for Solinea's customers, as well. "You can still get a project out the door by using traditional waterfall methodologies of application development, but you don't take advantage of the cloud's agility and cost efficiencies," Paola said. "[The challenge is] … how can I transform from waterfall to agile? How can I move to more of a common services methodology or concept where multiple application teams are using the same service that can be commonly defined in the infrastructure? How can I use automation and not throw bodies at problems that occur in the new infrastructure?" Paola said.

All of these challenges point to service opportunities for IT solution providers. Solinea's services, for example, are focused around four "pillars." According to Paola, IT strategy services involve helping the customer determine how it can leverage cloud computing, particularly OpenStack, to achieve a business objective. Architectural services help the customer determine how the solution can be integrated into legacy IT. Implementation and integration services are just that. And, finally, adoption-related services help the customer actually put the cloud to use.

In addition to OpenStack services, solution providers can develop and sell licenses for their own OpenStack distribution. Sadowski said he sees a lot of traction in this area, as there are benefits for companies that choose to implement an OpenStack distro. "Enterprises will go and get a software license from a provider that has done all the testing and is backward-compatible every time a release comes out. Enterprises can buy the software, load it and do limited installation, and have it up and running. If there's a problem, there's a company they can call," he said. According to Sadowski, there is a lot of competition in this area when one takes into account vendors such as Red Hat, HP and VMware. "There are a number of people taking the source code, hard coding it and adding a secret sauce," he said.

Market differentiation, challenges

The differentiator lies in the services that solution providers and vendors offer around the distro. "They will manage a private cloud on behalf of an enterprise versus some others who hand off the code. Others add capabilities that aren't in the integrated release. Some have created high-availability capabilities or the ability to do an upgrade without downtime," Sadowski explained.

Mirantis is one IT solution provider that has been successful at offering its own OpenStack distro and services. The company recently raised $100 million in Series B funding. Ionel said that Mirantis recognized a need for an OpenStack deployment that was easy to use, manage and deploy "so you don't need 10 Facebook-grade rocket science engineers to do it for you. … We decided to automate the deployment and operations of OpenStack with a control plane."

While OpenStack presents viable business opportunities for the IT channel, it's not without its drawbacks. "There are all of these distro providers and not all of them are on the most up-to-date release of OpenStack," Sadowski said, citing some of the concerns he sees in the market. "Not everybody is using the same version, and it's complex to deploy, and there's a limited set of developers. Despite the fact that yes, there are plenty of examples of production workloads, a lot of people still see it as more of a science project than a science."

The issue of skills development resonated among the IT solution providers we spoke to. Before Nexus took its OpenStack services to market, McNamara said he worked hard to build a development organization that consists of senior agile developers. "It was a big cultural change that took a long time. That's a challenge for a lot of companies in the market," he said. "It's a small community. I get calls, 'Do you know anyone I can hire?' I tell them, 'No. You need to build an organization.'"

Next Steps

Learn more: An OpenStack tutorial for cloud providers

Find out how OpenStack is working to address security concerns

This was last published in November 2014

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Does your company plan to offer OpenStack services and/or a distro?
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At this point, IMHO, the world really doesn't need any more OpenStack distros. There are plenty too choose from, even with some of the recently acquisitions and consolidation. As was discussed at OpenStack Summit, there is potentially quite a bit of room to create interesting business and delivery models using OpenStack - http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/11/05/speaking_in_tech_episode_134/
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As Colin McNamara points out in the article, the next hurdle for Private Cloud is getting the developers to use it. They have often seen the on-demand experience they can get from Public Cloud and are disappointed it's not as on-demand in the Private Cloud. Finance departments aren't allowing IT to budget lots of spare capacity, because it breaks the old model (buy per project, depreciate costs into the project costs). 
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