Dan's Take

A Full Menu of OpenStack Choices

Most major vendors have an open source cloud solution. But they take very different approaches, so you need to be a picky eater and find the right restaurant.

In the IT industry, everything comes back around eventually. It's happening now, as vendors trying to "own" OpenStack are facing similar challenges and deploying similar strategies and tactics as when they tried to "own" PCs, Unix/open systems and database technology. It's difficult for a vendor to take a vendor-neutral technology, brand that technology as its own, then make customers think of them when considering that technology.

Here are the approaches some of the major players have taken toward the OpenStack cloud platform. These are the same approaches they've been using for other open source projects.

Fine Dining: Red Hat
Red Hat and SUSE have adopted OpenStack and done their best to integrate it into their own portfolios of other open source technologies. As usual, these two suppliers have taken slightly different approaches, but the strategies they're using are similar to what they've done in the past. Each is doing its best to be seen as the premier representative of open source and the supplier of OpenStack.

Red Hat has reached into OpenStack and other open source technologies to optimize their use together, and with other Red Hat technology. The company has integrated its edition of virtual machine (VM) software, KVM; OS software, Red Hat Enterprise Linux; directory services; identity management services; application and system management services; and development tools and application frameworks.

Each of these individual pieces of technology has been enhanced to fit together well with other Red Hat editions of open source technology, be easy to install together and easy to manage as a unit. Red Hat has made command decisions about what features and options of the underlying open source projects will be selected by default. If we back up a bit, it's clear that Red Hat sees OpenStack as just another open source project to package and deliver to its customers.

If an enterprise is willing to adopt everything Red Hat has assembled and is happy with Red Hat's selections of features and functions, the journey into the cloud, regardless of whether that journey represents on- or off-premises computing or a combination of the two, will be straightforward and supportable.

Red Hat's approach is similar to that of a fine restaurant. Ingredients are selected with care, but the choice of how they're put together and seasoned is Red Hat's. Many diners, err enterprises, like the final taste and are happy to visit the Red Hat restaurant.

Enterprises that have adopted Red Hat's view of "open source everywhere" and Red Hat's selection of features and functions would be well advised to continue to look to Red Hat for private cloud functions. When new applications are being considered, enterprises of all sizes that believe in Red Hat's vision of the world and open source should consider adopting Red Hat's take on OpenStack.

The Buffet: SUSE
SUSE, for its part, has reached into the same open source community projects as Red Hat, but the approach the company has taken is a bit different. Rather than making many command decisions about features or options, SUSE has packaged all the available components and leaves the choice of features and functions to enterprise developers. SUSE, like Red Hat, sees OpenStack as just another open source project to package and offer to its customer base.

SUSE's approach resembles that of a buffet. Enterprise developers have the option of putting together on-premise cloud computing environ­ments to suit their individual tastes, without having to work around the choices of the chef.

Enterprises with the time, expertise and inclination to sort through all the features and functions that different parts of OpenStack community projects offer -- and have also come to a strong opinion about how each should be deployed to support their workloads -- would be well advised to work with SUSE.

The Kitchen Sink: Oracle
Oracle has started with its extensive portfolio of applications, development tools and database products and has rolled them onto its own distributions of Linux, Xen-based VM software and OpenStack.

As with Red Hat, Oracle has selected the features and functions of each of the open source projects that the company will support, and has done extensive work to integrate the company's proprietary solutions with the open source technology.

Rather than being seen as a proponent of open source technology, Oracle appears to be using open source in general and OpenStack in specific as a way to compete with -- and cut out -- other suppliers of systems software, virtualization and cloud computing technology. Customers using this technology funnel all their service fees to Oracle, rather than to Oracle and other software suppliers.

The company's approach resembles that of a supplier of kitchen technology: It's OK for an enterprise to prepare the meals it would like, but the enterprise must use the mixer, flour, oven and knives supplied by the supplier's kitchen.

Enterprises already using Oracle applications, development tools and database offerings might find it easier to stick with Linux, VM software and OpenStack Oracle offerings. The Oracle support team would be in a better position to quickly isolate and address technical issues when their renditions of open source software are the primary building blocks of the enterprise's workloads.

The Caterers: HP and IBM
A few suppliers, like Hewlett-Packard and IBM, have embraced open source technology (including OpenStack), but only as part of their approach to enterprise computing. The open source technology, such as OpenStack, is folded into their extensive mix of services, hardware (systems, storage, networking and so on); software (development tools, runtime environments, databases [IBM] and management tools); and, of course, the portfolio of services they're offering.

To bolster its own cloud services offerings, IBM recently acquired Blue Box, a provider of private cloud services. While not directly related to OpenStack, it's an example of how this type of competitor builds technology itself, and acquires companies or partners with other companies to offer a complete, enterprise-grade set of offerings.

This approach positions open source technology, including OpenStack, as merely another tool in the IT toolkit.

Their approach is very similar to a catering business. The client selects a menu and the caterer is happy to come and prepare a sumptuous meal. The client's staff can help if the enterprise would like, but the caterer will only guarantee the results if their chefs do the work.

Enterprises that already have IBM or HP as a primary supplier of technology and services might be best advised to stick with the partner they know. It's clear that both of these suppliers have extensive track records of success helping major enterprises use technology to its best advantage.

What's Old Is New Again
Open source technology, such as Linux or OpenStack, added a few new wrinkles to the age-old challenges vendors face; but for the most part, we're seeing the same tactics used that were used during the personal computing, Unix/open systems and database wars of the 1980s and 1990s. Each vendor selects technology and provides offerings to its clients in different ways.

What new wrinkles have been added in the cloud era? Each supplier has the ability to make changes to the underlying technology and distribute it as its own product, rather than merely being able to package a standard offering from some other supplier. This, by the way, could result in one vendor's distribution of an open source technology not being easily and totally compatible with what another supplier is offering.

(As an aside, when I held a position of marketing manager in the Digital Equipment Corp. Network and Communications group, the industry saw a similar situation with X.25 standard networking products. It was quite possible for two suppliers to implement a different selection of options offered by the standards and produce incompatible products. This was a big deal when vendors demonstrated compatibility and interoperability at trade shows. This situation, I believe, is one of the reasons that X.25 communications technology isn't in favor today; customers expect products based on standards to be interoperable and compatible.)

Rallying Cries
Red Hat and SUSE, being suppliers of open source technology and services focused on that technology, proudly wave the open source banner, and provide tools and services to help enterprises use today's latest approaches to computing. They cry, "Open source is your path to lower costs and freedom; come with us and find freedom from vendor lock-in."

Oracle uses open source technology, such as OpenStack, as just another way to persuade enterprises to use its own applications, development tools and database technology. Its slogan: "We own your applications, development tools, application frameworks, database engines and, in some cases, your systems, too. Come with us if you want to simplify your engagement."

HP and IBM argue that they know enterprise computing better than just about anyone. Open source technology, such as OpenStack, isn't an end in itself; it's just part of a bigger enterprise solution. They're saying, "We're uniquely qualified to help you use technology to address all of your enterprise strategies; we'll take care of the details so that you can focus on your business."

Which approach is best for the journey to cloud computing? It depends on what you're hungry for. Only until you know that can you pick the best restaurant.

About the Author

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. He has been a business unit manager at a hardware company and head of corporate marketing and strategy at a software company.

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