OpenStack these days may feel like old news. The platform has been out for a full decade, and it would be hard to argue that it enjoys as much mindshare as newer and flashier workload management solutions -- like Kubernetes. Even its once major backers, like SUSE, have abandoned it.
Yet in some pockets of the enterprise IT market, OpenStack remains alive and relatively well. One big one is the colocation data center market. Colocation providers continue to offer services that cater to OpenStack deployments, and OpenStack remains a solid choice for colocation customers who want to run a private cloud on their colocated infrastructure.
OpenStack and Colocation: The Basics
OpenStack is an open source platform for transforming infrastructure into a private cloud. It can take the compute, storage, and other resources of each server within a cluster, meld them together, and expose them using an Infrastructure-as-a-Service model.
OpenStack can be used with any type of infrastructure, including a private on-premises data center, colocated infrastructure, or even public cloud resources. In the case of colocation, OpenStack offers an easy way to pool servers companies run in a colocation center -- whether they are rented from the colo provider, or owned by the customer -- into a private cloud whose services are accessed from any location, the same way public cloud services are accessed.
OpenStack is by no means the only solution for achieving this kind of setup. You could do something similar using a proprietary virtualization platform, like VMware vSphere. Kubernetes, too, could theoretically be used to deliver IaaS services from private infrastructure, although that’s not yet a common use case for the platform. CloudStack, which was once a major OpenStack competitor but whose popularity has waned in recent years, nonetheless remains another open source private cloud option.
Who’s Using OpenStack on Colocated Infrastructure?
With several platforms available for building private clouds on colocated infrastructure, how does OpenStack fare today? While it’s impossible to say exactly how many colocation customers with private clouds are building them on OpenStack versus competing solutions, it’s clear that OpenStack usage remains healthy within the colocation space.
Among major infrastructure companies, Rackspace, which created OpenStack together with NASA and launched the open source project a decade ago, perhaps stands out the most in this respect. Managed OpenStack private clouds are one of its marquee services. Rackspace remains a top-five contributor to the project, making it the only infrastructure vendor on that list.
Granted, Rackspace is more than just a colocation provider -- it offers a variety of infrastructure services -- and its managed OpenStack product is not tied specifically to its colocation services. Still, it’s not hard to see how these services go hand-in-hand: Rackspace colocation customers might also adopt Rackspace managed OpenStack as an easy way to build a private cloud on their colocated infrastructure.
And if you want to run Rackspace managed OpenStack but don’t want to host it in a Rackspace data center, you also have the option of running it in an Equinix colocation facility, thanks to a partnership between the two companies that dates to 2016.
It’s clear, then, that colocation vendors themselves are making use of OpenStack both as a backend for solutions they offer and as a managed service unto itself.
On the other hand, the number of organizations that deploy OpenStack inside colocation facilities probably represents a minority of the overall OpenStack userbase. Kamesh Pemmaraju, marketing head at Platform9, a major provider of managed OpenStack services that (unlike Rackspace) is not also in the data center business, told Data Center Knowledge that “my guess is most of our customers are in their own data centers” rather than in colocation facilities.
But the popularity of colocation among OpenStack users depends on the size of the organization, he said. “The general trend seems to be that the smaller customers -- mid-sized enterprises with less than 50 million dollars in revenue -- are all using colo spaces, while the much larger enterprises have their own data centers.”
Pemmaraju added that Platform9’s own management plane for OpenStack (as well as Kubernetes, which the company also offers as a managed service) runs on Equinix infrastructure.
In short, colocation providers continue to maintain close relationships with the OpenStack community. For their part, companies that specialize in OpenStack as a service also rely heavily on colocation facilities.
There may be many other ways beyond OpenStack to manage colocated infrastructure as private clouds. And you certainly don’t need a colocation facility if you want to use OpenStack, which can run on almost any type of hardware. Yet the relationship between OpenStack and the colocation industry remains strong, with no signs of slowing despite OpenStack’s fall from the next-big-thing-in-IT status it once enjoyed.