VMware’s Easy Button for Private OpenStack Cloud
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VMware’s Easy Button for Private OpenStack Cloud

Virtualization giant promises OpenStack that just works, but will it coexist with the cloud framework in enterprise data centers of the future?

OpenStack has emerged as the leading technology option for enterprise private clouds. But when an IT manager decides they want to create a private OpenStack cloud in their data center, they quickly find that the term “OpenStack” doesn’t represent a single path with a single set of implications. It is a multitude of paths, each with its own consequences down the road.

By introducing its own OpenStack distribution last year, VMware helped many companies narrow the choices down. The Palo Alto, California-based giant’s technology is ubiquitous in enterprise data centers around the world, and its promise is you can now also have a private OpenStack cloud in your data center but use the same skill set you use to manage your VMware environment. And, you don’t have to switch to the open source KVM hypervisor.

The Appeal of OpenStack

Put simply, OpenStack is the best way to get as close to having something like an Amazon Web Services cloud internally as possible, Donna Scott, a VP and distinguished analyst at Gartner, said. More and more enterprises want to experiment with software, develop and deploy, improve, or abort, and this mode of operation, pioneered by web giants, requires infrastructure flexibility best served by the Infrastructure-as-a-Service model. OpenStack is a way to get IaaS APIs internally, and “it’s growing because of that,” she said.

OpenStack also represents the promise of web-scale-style infrastructure, comprised of commodity hardware, orchestrated by open source software. The promise of this approach is reduced cost, greater interoperability, and less vendor lock-in. That expected cost reduction comes not only from cheaper hardware but also from not having to pay for VMware licenses. Of course, those savings expectations have to be compared with the cost of standing up and operating a private OpenStack cloud, which is an expensive undertaking in itself.

OpenStack is Hard

It’s an expensive undertaking because even though OpenStack has been around for about five years now, the group of technologies called OpenStack as a whole is still immature. Some parts are more advanced than others, but not all components are at the level of maturity most enterprises can deal with. “OpenStack today is still pretty tough to consume,” Scott said.

These gaps are what VMware is offering to fill with its VMware Integrated OpenStack (VIO). Standing up a private cloud is not just about automating compute; it requires storage and network components as well, said Arvind Soni, a product line manager at VMware who leads the VIO effort.

Switching to a KVM-based architecture means having to learn how to do networking and storage with KVM, he said.

VMware is promising a streamlined OpenStack deployment that simply works. VIO offers ways to do things like provisioning vLANs or creating distributed network switches for your private OpenStack cloud a typical IT organization is already familiar with because it has managed a VMware environment for years.

Going It Alone Is Expensive

Standing up a private OpenStack cloud in-house without a pre-tested package from VMware or one of the other vendors that offer them takes specialized knowledge that is hard to come by in today’s market. The big-name companies with big publicized OpenStack deployments have in-house resources most enterprises don’t. Those companies also didn’t do it completely without vendor involvement. Rackspace helped Walmart out in its initial stages, for example, and PayPal used some help from Mirantis.

Once the environment is up, you need to continue spending resources on managing it. A custom home-baked OpenStack cloud means you have to do all the software updates and patching yourself. This is especially difficult with KVM-powered OpenStack, which requires OpenStack software on every KVM host, Soni said. That problem doesn’t exist with VIO.

Yes, companies that go it alone have more control over their destiny, but that control “is coming at a hefty price,” he said.

KVM and ESX under One Roof, If That's Your Thing

Some users (very few today) don’t want to have to choose between KVM or VMware’s ESX under the hood of their private OpenStack cloud. Solutions like the one launched recently by VMware together with Rackspace address that need. The two vendors now offer a single interface and a single authentication for KVM-powered Rackspace OpenStack cloud and VIO cloud as an option.

There is some interest in such solutions in the market, but not a whole lot, Scott said. Soni had a similar impression. “I have yet to see a production deployment which has multiple stacks underneath,” he said. From VMware’s standpoint, the idea behind the partnership with Rackspace is to have a partner that does OpenStack on KVM “really well” in case the need does arise.

VMware-OpenStack Combo Will Be Hard to Ignore for a While

VMware spending so much time and resources on OpenStack represents a recognition that OpenStack is here to stay. But the trend also represents an existential question for VMware. If the difference between VIO and KVM-based OpenStack is maturity of OpenStack technologies and the level of familiarity enterprise users have with them, the advantages VIO offers today are temporary. Of course, nobody knows whether VMware and OpenStack will co-exist in the enterprise data center 10 years from now, but the onramp to private cloud that combines the next generation of IT represented by OpenStack and the trust enterprises have in VMware today is a powerful proposition.

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