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OpenStack as an alternative to proprietary public clouds

Moving off the public cloud has the advantage of picking dedicated hardware for the data center.

As organizations build cloud infrastructure that supports the processing and storage of large quantities of data, cost, flexibility and reliability are all prime considerations. While some enterprises and startups have invested heavily in public infrastructure-as-a-service such as Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud Platform, many have subsequently gravitated toward private or hybrid clouds.

Public cloud performance levels spur organizations to take up private/hybrid solutions
The reasons for doing so are often straightforward: Running operations on-site or in a data center provides a level of security, control and performance that can be hard to match using shared resources, which are prone to unpredictable fluctuations in quality. Recent benchmarking tests highlighted how inconsistent the public cloud can be, even across identical tests performed on the same infrastructure. InfoWorld's Peter Wayner analyzed leading IaaS offerings such as AWS, Google Compute Engine and Microsoft Windows Azure, finding that speed varied across each test and that differences in CPU core counts didn't necessarily return the performance gains that a user might expect.

"Some of this may be due to the randomness hidden in the cloud. While the companies make it seem like you're renting a real machine that sits in a box in some secret, undisclosed bunker, the reality is that you're probably getting assigned a thin slice of a box," Wayner wrote. "You're sharing the machine, and that means the other users may or may not affect you. Or maybe it's the hypervisor that's behaving differently. It's hard to know. Your speed can change from minute to minute and from machine to machine, something that usually doesn't happen with the server boxes rolling off the assembly line."

What can enterprises learn from these results? For starters, while the public cloud offers readily available, scalable resources, its levels of efficiency and cost effectiveness can be hard to pin down. Buyers may pay substantially more for additional memory and processing power, but there's often little tangible benefit from doing so. For example, paying eight times as much for 8 CPUs doesn't guarantee an eightfold jump in performance. Plus, the multi-tenancy of IaaS means that speeds may be changed throughout the day depending on overall usage, all while organizations have little control over hardware.

Moreover, the variable pricing of the public cloud can be a challenge for organizations that are operating on static budgets even as workloads are dynamic and prone to spikes in resource requirements – and as such, potentially very expensive. The marketing technology company Moz moved many of its operations off AWS and onto a private cloud, in large part to save money. Setting up on-premises or data center infrastructure has its own set of challenges, though. IT departments need to find a combination of cloud storage media, networking solutions and software that are high-performance, economical and amenable to the level of service that the enterprise is looking to offer.

OpenStack's role in building flexible, cost effective cloud storage systems
To this end, open source projects have gotten a lot of attention as alternatives to entirely proprietary solutions that are relatively pricey and difficult to customize. OpenStack has emerged as one of the leading platforms in this context, capable of creating cutting-edge private, hybrid and public cloud environments that address some of the most common pain points associated with IaaS and similar offerings.

Speaking to TechTarget, a pair of executives at French cloud and managed service provider eNovance highlighted how OpenStack was the right tool for helping companies get started in the cloud. eNovance products vice president Nick Barcet highlighted how OpenStack was free of the steep licensing fees that put many platforms out of reach for buyers. At the same time, it has sufficient back-end integration and APIs that work with a wide range of hardware, meaning that companies can obtain a high level of service without breaking the bank on appliances and devices.

"The main feature that OpenStack has is that it can be scaled and defined to match the level of service that you want to offer," Barcet told TechTarget. "If you want to offer a very high-end service, you are able to integrate OpenStack with very high-end back-ends. And if you want to offer a very cheap service, you can integrate with very cheap back-ends. Because there are no licensing costs, you are free to define your offering and compete at whatever level you want."

In addition, OpenStack's support for almost every type of hypervisor and OS may make it increasingly appealing to organizations in sectors such as telecommunications. The eNovance executives pointed out that OpenStack gave these companies a way to build and scale services that leveraged their bandwidth without exerting much of a financial burden. Moreover, OpenStack could be a viable option for enterprises that are looking to get better control over data, hardware and expenses than they would have with a traditional IaaS solution.

The implications of OpenStack certification programs
With this uptick in interest in OpenStack, there have been a lot of efforts from associated vendors to create certification programs that ensure compatibility of various services. So far, major OpenStack vendors such as Red Hat have led the pack, with many partners getting their products certified for Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Red Hat OpenStack. These programs are important as OpenStack evolves from a project into an array of different products that address commercial needs.

However, some vendors are trying to open up the certification process. Mirantis recently announced that it wanted the OpenStack community to certify the project's essential drivers, in part to push back against proprietary certification programs that may complicate the ability to perform real due diligence on things such as bug tracking and code review.

"Such certification programs are proprietary to a vendor running the certification and there is little transparency from the customer standpoint," Mirantis co-founder Boris Renski told ReadWrite. "Some vendors actually do go through compatibility testing that ranges from rigorous to little more than a check box exercise."

Mirantis executives have previously argued that OpenStack may eventually have broader impact on cloud computing, perhaps disrupting traditional platform-as-a-service vendors. Already, it has become an increasingly feasible alternative to opaque IaaS offerings and may continue to thrive as contributors turn its features into enterprise-class solutions.