OpenStack is many things, but a “solved problem”? Not even close. Though early OpenStack visionary Josh McKenty cited the “boredom” of working on an established platform like OpenStack as his reason for leaving to join Cloud Foundry, the reality is that OpenStack remains very much a work in progress that needs strong leadership if it’s to live up to its potential.

“Chaos bores me”

Josh McKenty bleeds OpenStack. The former Technical Architect of NASA’s Nebula Cloud Computing Platform and the OpenStack compute components (not to mention an OpenStack) board member, McKenty co-founded Piston Cloud to monetize the OpenStack opportunity.

That was then. This is now.

Leaving for Cloud Foundry, Piston Cloud co-founder Josh McKenty declared:

“Everyone sees OpenStack as a solved problem. They know it works, it’s reliable, it’s been around for years…. Last year was OpenStack’s year. This year is the year OpenStack got boring. Next year is when nobody is going to be talking about it. They’re just going to be writing checks.”

In a separate post, McKenty further calls out OpenStack’s “visible world dominance.”

I think Cloud Foundry is a great project and Pivotal is fortunate to have him. But let’s be clear: OpenStack is anything but a “solved problem,” and it’s nowhere near “world dominance,” visible or otherwise. Nor is it in any (positive) way “boring.”

Just ask Mark Russinovich, Microsoft’s new Azure CTO:

“From our perspective, OpenStack is, as something we’d adopt to run our own cloud, not mature enough, scalable enough, or stable enough. The way we look at it is not how we could use it, but what our customers want from it.

“What we find is that almost no one uses the OpenStack APIs directly. When we talk to them, we hear that OpenStack is incredibly hard to set up and it is incredibly hard to maintain. So, few people are actually deploying it and using it successfully.”

That certainly doesn’t sound like a “solved problem” — nor do reports of “backbreaking migrations” or $100 million in wasted OpenStack implementations.

Indeed, things were bleak enough last year that former Gartner analyst (now Red Hat employee) Alessandro Perilli insisted that “OpenStack penetration in the large enterprise market is minimal.”

Not that it will remain that way forever.

OpenStack needs a leader

OpenStack continues to have tremendous promise, despite the gargantuan lead that Amazon Web Services (AWS) has established. A quick look at job postings for OpenStack talent reveals that there’s substance to this hype.

What OpenStack needs, as Gartner analyst Lydia Leong has described, is a “core” that is “small, rock-solid stable, and readily extensible.” As she goes on to detail, progress is being made:

“There’s much work to be done still, but things are grinding onwards in an encouraging fashion. The will to solve the common problems of installs, upgrades, and networking seems to have permeated the community sufficiently that these basic elements of usability and stability are getting into the core. The involvement of larger vendors has created a collective determination to do what it takes to make enterprise adoption of OpenStack possible, in due time.”

One of those larger vendors is Red Hat. The big opportunity for Red Hat or another leader is to bring order to the chaos that had been OpenStack community development. Personally, I think they have a very good chance of doing so, but let’s be clear: there’s still a lot of work to do before OpenStack gets anywhere near “world dominance” or being a “solved problem.”

Which is exactly why companies will be willing to pay Red Hat or another vendor to help them get to that point.