Cloud

Amazon Web Services and containers could be one-two punch against OpenStack

The thriving container ecosystem threatens to be even more dangerous to OpenStack progress than public cloud.

Image: iStockphoto/ALLVISIONN

OpenStack has always been a bit of a trainwreck, albeit a popular one. With traditional enterprise IT desperate to remake the cloud in its stodgy image, it's not surprising that so many people continue to hope that OpenStack-powered private clouds will save them, even as line-of-business developers within those same enterprises pour billions into Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

But, let's be clear: As much as public clouds threaten to rain on OpenStack's parade, there may be a more pernicious enemy lying in wait—containers.

I say "pernicious" because, as Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady highlights, containers are just as likely to be a friend to OpenStack as a foe. And yet, as he goes on, "the vast array of projects that are growing up around containers to orchestrate, schedule, and otherwise manage them definitely overlaps with OpenStack today and will more in future."

Et tu, Docker?

A familiar enemy

As mentioned, OpenStack has persisted despite a plethora of problems affecting deployments. As one cloud analyst told me, "Most of the big name [OpenStack] users have a very different story to tell when you're not talking to the original project champion."

But let's assume, as O'Grady does, that OpenStack "installation and even upgrades are more or less solved problems, particularly if you go the distribution route," allowing enterprises to achieve a measure of success with them. Even if we assume enterprises are having a measure of success with OpenStack, they're having even more success with public clouds, as even the most cursory of glances at vendor revenues indicates. Amazon Web Services, all by itself, dwarfs the entire private cloud market. That public cloud revenue, by the way, is growing at a much faster rate than the private cloud is.

SEE: Public cloud crushing private cloud in growth and revenue (TechRepublic)

The reason is simple, as cloud guru David Linthicum posits: "'[P]rivate cloud' is another way to say 'my own data center,' which does not provide the benefits that companies seek from the principles of cloud computing." It is simply a way for the CIO to maintain business as usual, even as the market demands business unusual.

Or, as O'Grady puts it in a separate post, today's big question is "whether or not you want servers and software to be your problem or someone else's," with the market increasingly favoring the latter. As just one example, "what is the business value of having in-house the skills necessary to keep complex and scalable database infrastructure up and running?" For most companies, this is best left to an Amazon or Microsoft so that the company can focus on business value rather than shepherding servers.

All of which will increasingly pressure OpenStack's server-hugger disciples to think differently about infrastructure, with momentum shifting to public cloud. But this is an obvious OpenStack enemy.

I thought you were my friend

The more dangerous enemy might actually be containers, however, because they also promise to be a friend to OpenStack, as mentioned above. I discussed this a bit back in 2015, but O'Grady's analysis has the benefit of scrutinizing all that has happened since then, including Kubernetes and Mesos as tools used to manage and orchestrate containers at scale.

SEE: Everything you need to know about cloud in just one tweet (TechRepublic)

In a world awash in new (and often open source) options for running applications at scale, OpenStack risks getting run over, including unintentionally by its erstwhile friends, like containers. OpenStack, in short, is developing a marketing problem as it seeks to distinguish itself.

For example, as O'Grady outlines, enterprises may eschew the OpenStack management model altogether in favor of a back to the future approach:

What if compute took the next logical step, much as Hadoop has in the data processing space before it, and abstracted the network of machines entirely to present not the fleets of machines we have become accustomed to in this cloudy world, but one big computer—a virtual mainframe? This is, of course, the goal of Mesos and the recently open sourced DC/OS, and while it's hardly a household name at present, it will be interesting to see whether customers remain fixated on the discrete, familiar asset model that OpenStack represents or whether they are attracted, over time, to the heavy abstraction of something like Mesos. If the web world is any indication, the latter is more probable.

From both friend (containers) and foe (public cloud), OpenStack is under siege. With the line of business now driving over 50% of cloud adoption, and containers and their ecosystem growing in popularity, that siege is intensifying and makes OpenStack's ultimate success far from certain.

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About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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