OpenStack COO: Days of AWS as Cloud Monolith are Numbered

OpenStack Summit: While there isn’t a simple AWS v. OpenStack dichotomy, the market is hungry for many more clouds

Yevgeniy Sverdlik

November 4, 2014

4 Min Read
OpenStack COO: Days of AWS as Cloud Monolith are Numbered
Mark Collier, OpenStack Foundation COO, delivering a keynote at the OpenStack summit in Paris

PARIS - The culminating sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey has Dave Bowman, the film’s protagonist, transform while lying in bed in front of Kubrick’s iconic black stone monolith. OpenStack Foundation COO Mark Collier used a still from the bedroom scene as an image to represent Amazon in his keynote Tuesday morning at the OpenStack summit in Paris.

“There is a monolith in the room,” Collier said, the monolith in the background featuring Amazon’s curved-arrow logo. While there are many public cloud providers, including a couple of giants (Microsoft and Google), according to Collier Amazon remains a single massive monolith in the cloud market. But this state of affairs is going to change in the very near future, he said.

“There’s not going to be one cloud strategy that’s going to work for everybody,” Collier said from stage at the Palais des congrès de Paris. One vendor is simply not going to cut it, and the amount of OpenStack clouds that already exist in many places where AWS does not have data centers is proof, according to him.

“That’s’ pretty self-evident at this point, or else we wouldn’t be seeing clouds all over the planet,” he said, showing a map of the world indicating about 20 OpenStack cloud locations and about half that number of AWS regions.

AWS v. OpenStack is a rare choice to be facing

It’s not a simple dichotomy, however. AWS and OpenStack are two different things.

The former is a company that provides a specific set of services from a proprietary platform it has designed on its own, and the latter is an open source cloud architecture, which in its current state emerged from an industry-wide collaboration effort. Some companies have used OpenStack to build cloud service businesses, but there are also many examples of companies using it to stand up private clouds for their own use.

Cloud ambitions of companies like Microsoft, Google, IBM SoftLayer, and CenturyLink Technology Solutions are another reason the AWS v. OpenStack dichotomy doesn’t exist.

Some customers do face the choice of AWS versus OpenStack in some situations. They could be choosing between AWS and another public cloud service that’s built on OpenStack (such as Rackspace’s), or they could be choosing between AWS and an internal cloud of their own.

Collier’s point was that there is definitely room in the cloud market for players other than Amazon, which he said he had nothing against. “I actually think that they’re a very impressive technology company.”

OpenStack creates freedom of choice

In situations where it is a matter of choosing between the two, OpenStack wins on flexibility of the hardware deployed underneath. One size doesn’t fit all, but a few sizes don’t fit all either, as Wes Jossey, head of operations at Tapjoy, pointed out in his presentation during the morning keynote.

Tapjoy, which provides an advertising and monetization platform for mobile applications, is an example of a user that runs on both AWS and OpenStack. The company has grown up on AWS, and since June of this year has been running its real-time data analytics engine on an internal OpenStack cloud.

Essentially, only seven “modern” server configurations are available to AWS users. When Tapjoy was designing the infrastructure for its OpenStack cloud, Jossey was amazed at the level of configurability that was possible. “We got to define exactly what we wanted to build, exactly how we wanted it to look, and exactly the right ratios [between CPU, RAM, and IO].”

Cloud is hard

The problem is that standing up an OpenStack environment is a pretty involved and lengthy project, regardless of whether you’re doing it alone or going to vendors for help. As Jossey put it, he’d gotten so good at using AWS, he could “go in and shoot the shit with the best of them.” With OpenStack, not so much. There was a steep learning curve.

“Operation of a public cloud, or any cloud, is non-trivial,” Bill Hilf, senior vice president of product management for Helion, HP’s cloud business, said. “It’s a real investment. It takes real time and real expertise to do it.”

Much of the Helion business revolves around OpenStack. Hilf also said that there is great need for cloud vendors beyond not just Amazon, but also beyond Microsoft and Google.

Scale of the big public clouds makes them really good for certain types of workloads but not for all workloads. If you’re streaming the Olympics, World Cup, or the Academy Awards, AWS is a great platform for you. But if you’re a running a bank in a highly regulated environment with ongoing budget cuts, you live in a different world that requires a very different set of solutions, Hilf explained.

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