Understanding CloudStack, OpenStack, and the Cloud API

Creating a powerful cloud services layer requires a good platform capable of integration with a variety of resources. Check out the good and the bad in two leading open source clouds

Bill Kleyman

February 23, 2015

4 Min Read
Understanding CloudStack, OpenStack, and the Cloud API
Stage at the 2014 OpenStack summit in Paris

OpenStack vs CloudStack is not so much of a battle as it is a push for advanced cloud management. Let’s start here: these platforms were designed as cloud computing has become an integral part for many organizations. The big push was for logical cloud-layer management that has a lot of ways to control various workloads.

With that, let’s dive into the latest and greatest from both of these guys.

CloudStack: Running on hyervisors like KVN, vSphere, XenServer, and now Hyper-V, CloudStack is an open-source cloud management platform designed for creating, controlling, and deploying various cloud services. With its growing API-supported stack, CloudStack already fully supports the Amazon AWS API model.

  • What’s good: It really does keep getting better. The latest release of CloudStack is actually pretty nice. The deployment is really smooth consisting of only one VM running the CloudStack Management Server and another to act as the actual cloud infrastructure. In reality, you could deploy the whole thing on one physical host.

  • The challenges: The first stable (maintenance) release of CloudStack came out around 2013 with 4.0.2; yet some still question the rate of CloudStack adoption. Even with some big advancements, some complain that the architecture and installation process – although simplified – still requires quite a bit of knowledge and time to deploy.

  • What’s new:4.1 (with 4.4.2 just released) sees improved security, hypervisor agnosticism, and advanced network-layer management. Also big updates revolve around:

    • Improved Storage Management

    • Virtual Private Cloud tiers can now span guest networks across availability zones

    • Support for VMware Distributed Resource Scheduler

    • Improved Support for Hyper-V Zones, VPC and Storage Migration

  • Who’s using it: DataPipe currently deploys its global cloud infrastructure on CloudStack. According to DataPipe, their reasons for moving to the platform include:

    • Paused VMs maintain machine state without compute charges

    • Scale storage independent of compute

    • Single security zone across all regions

    • Access to Hong Kong Economic Zone, and Shanghai (Mainland China)

    • Additional cost savings as a result of high performance VM's that require fewer computing resources

Outside of Datapipe – CloudStack’s largest current user – there have been other smaller but important adopters as well. This includes Shopzilla, SunGard Availability Services, CloudOps, Citrix, WebMD Health, and several others.

The general consensus is that CloudStack, although strongly gaining popularity, is that it is still in the shadows of OpenStack. Nevertheless, there are even more organizations moving towards the, now graduated, Apache Incubation Program CloudStack model, especially since many early adoption pains have been resolved.

OpenStack: Managed by the OpenStack foundation, the actual platform consists of multiple interrelated stack-based projects. These all then tie into one management interface to provide a cloud computing management platform.

  • What’s good: It’s definitely a more mature product. Furthermore, there are more than 150 companies (AMD, Brocade, Dell, HP, IBM, VMware, and Yahoo) who are all contributing to development. It’s seen as the leader in cloud platform management and momentum around growth continues.

  • The challenges: Even with so much adoption and development around the platform, OpenStack is still challenging to deploy and, in many cases, needs to be managed from various CLI consoles. The fragmented architecture consists of a number of different modular components including– Compute, Open Storage, Block Storage, Networking, Dashboard, Identity Service, Image server, Telemetry, Multiple Tenant Cloud Messaging, Elastic Map Reduce, and others. The good news is that there are a lot of configuration and installation scripts out there to use as a template.

  • What’s new: Yes, there are still some technical and deployment challenges. Has this stopped adoption momentum? Not at all. The latest release of Juno touts 342 new features. The Juno release adds enterprise features such as storage policies, a new data processing service that provisions Hadoop and Spark, and lays the foundation for OpenStack to be the platform for Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), a major transformation driving improved agility and efficiency in telco and service provider data centers.

  • Who’s using it: Oh yeah, this list is impressive and yes, it’s growing. Jointly launched by NASA and Rackspace Hosting, OpenStack had some serious backers from the onset. Now, OpenStack is utilized by such organizations as AT&T, CERN, Yahoo!, HP Public Cloud, Red Hat OpenShift and several others.

Let’s face facts: OpenStack is a more mature and more widely adopted platform. But that doesn’t mean it’s not facing the heat of other players in the market. There is a lot of money being pumped into platforms like CloudStack and even Eucalyptus. Right now, OpenStack is enjoying a mature product set with some very high profile users.

Cloud services are fighting for market share and are developing the next generation of cloud management systems. Arguably the four biggest players in the market currently are OpenStack, CloudStack, Eucalyptus and OpenNebula. Each of them is creating new ways for organizations to connect various cloud services. There’s no doubt that, right now, OpenStack is leading the way. However, cloud interconnectivity, API architectures, and the influences of the end-user will ultimately dictate the future of the cloud. Whatever the outcome, the business, and the of course the end-user, will certainly benefit.

About the Author(s)

Bill Kleyman

Bill Kleyman has more than 15 years of experience in enterprise technology. He also enjoys writing, blogging, and educating colleagues about tech. His published and referenced work can be found on Data Center Knowledge, AFCOM, ITPro Today, InformationWeek, NetworkComputing, TechTarget, DarkReading, Forbes, CBS Interactive, Slashdot, and more.

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