OpenStack and the Integration Challenge

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    The enterprise is incorporating cloud infrastructure into its general data footprint at a rapid pace, but the process is not going as smoothly as many had hoped. Integration in particular is proving to be a thorny issue as organizations attempt to shift workloads first from the data center to the cloud and then from cloud to cloud.

    Widespread integration is one of the drivers of the OpenStack cloud, which provides an open platform that enables third-party infrastructure to exchange data much more easily than popular web services like Amazon. But building an OpenStack environment is not easy, and many organizations are finding that there is more to an integrated environment than maintaining common APIs and management stacks.

    This is part of the reason why OpenStack backers like Rackspace and Intel have teamed up on the OpenStack Innovation Center. Based in Rackspace’s San Antonio headquarters, the facility is dedicated to ensuring that each piece of the OpenStack portfolio is not only compatible, but can also be provisioned and integrated in a relatively straightforward fashion. A key element of this effort is to reduce or eliminate the conflicts that tend to arise as various vendors provide their own solutions to the OpenStack build. While these components support the overriding OpenStack framework, they do not necessarily provide full functionality with other vendor contributions, ultimately weakening the platform’s ability to foster a fully integrated cloud.

    Nonetheless, OpenStack is expected to see significant growth over the next five years, says market research firm Technavio. The company has pegged compound annual growth at a healthy 32.9 percent, driven largely by the desire among enterprise executives to create Amazon-like cloud environments within the corporate firewall. And with top vendors like Cisco, Dell, HP and VMware anxious to maintain lucrative enterprise revenue streams, they are supporting OpenStack to varying degrees even as they continue to emphasize proprietary platforms for key elements of the private cloud.

    OpenStack is also seen as crucial to the deployment of new technologies like containers into the cloud. As Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth told eWeek recently, OpenStack provides the management foundation for highly scaled data environments that utilize both virtual machines and containers. He noted that scalability is only effective if it can be maintained within a reasonable cost structure, and OpenStack offers the means to automate and orchestrate large numbers of containers within a pooled architecture. Without that, organizations run the risk of pushing the integration challenge to the virtual layer where incompatibilities will arise between hundreds, if not thousands, of self-contained computing environments.


    Still, the degree of integration within OpenStack will depend largely on how the platform evolves. As EMC’s Randy Bias noted at OpenStack Silicon Valley recently, the sheer number of configuration options (more than 500 at the moment) will likely produce conflicts even when implemented by experienced technicians. And there is still a lack of effective tools to test the various distributions for compatibility before they are pushed into production environments.

    To be fair, though, this is usually the way of open source platforms. The more interest they draw, the more full-featured they become, increasing the likelihood that one person’s piece will conflict with another’s.

    The enterprise is not about to port its entire data infrastructure to the public cloud, however, so that means private and hybrid infrastructure will have to fulfill the need for scale, flexibility and self-service for the time being. An open platform will not produce digital nirvana in this regard, but it should provide a reasonable balance between resource and service integration and the need to incorporate multiple clouds within a distributed data ecosystem.

    Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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