What is OpenStack?

What is OpenStack

OpenStack raises mixed feelings in the IT community. Some claim that the platform has been a gigantic success, but there is no shortage of contrary opinions. Before we establish where these discrepancies come from, let’s remind ourselves what OpenStack actually is.

What is OpenStack?

OpenStack is a joint project between NASA and Rackspace that was launched in July 2010. NASA provided a computing platform that allows the administration of large groups of virtual servers, while Rackspace is a Cloud Files system that supports petabytes of storage. Three months later there was already an official version of OpenStack presented as Austin. In April 2021, the 23rd edition called Wallaby saw the light of day. The platform is developed by a large community. Statisticians have calculated that 900 changes are proposed every day, some 18,000 tests are carried out to evaluate them, and more than a thousand people have been involved in the work on Wallaby.

The goal of the founders of OpenStack was to provide an open source platform to meet the needs of cloud providers or companies designing cloud environments in order to help solve two topics.

  • One was to break free from Amazon – then the hegemon in the cloud services market,
  • while the second was independence from the VMware and Microsoft licences granted for virtual machines running in the private cloud.

According to the initial assumptions, OpenStack was to be distinguished by its scalability and simplicity of implementation. While the first promise has been fulfilled, the second has not, and opponents often criticise OpenStack for excessive complexity. This was largely determined by the number of releases of the platform (two per year on average) in which new modules were added. Simplicity became unattainable and OpenStack gained a reputation for being difficult to implement.

However, those who learn the ins and outs of this system appreciate the wide room for manoeuvre in building cloud infrastructure. OpenStack enables the creation of public and private clouds for both large corporations and small businesses. Within an organisation, IT teams can provide the infrastructure for new projects, development and test systems as well as production environments. This makes it easy to reassign computing resources, treating them as a pool freely available for use. The platform’s promoters recommend it for building a hybrid cloud, and its costs can be up to 30 percent lower compared to Amazon’s or Microsoft’s public cloud.

OpenStack on the market: victory or defeat?

Since OpenStack was first released, the cloud services market has undergone a major transformation. Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform followed in Amazon’s footsteps, while the multi-cloud concept also emerged. How does OpenStack fit into the new environment?

Opinions on the subject are divided. None of the three largest cloud providers have ever used the platform and there is no indication that this position will suddenly change. Not everyone remembers that just a few years ago, Cisco and HP had high hopes for the platform. These companies wanted to create their own public clouds based on OpenStack. Unfortunately, both projects failed. HP closed Helion in 2015 and Cisco’s Intercloud initiative died two years later.

Nor has OpenStack conquered the private cloud market. Many organisations are now building this environment on hyperconverged systems. As is well known, VMware and Nutanix play the first fiddle in this market segment, i.e. manufacturers who rely on their own solutions to create infrastructure. However, to say that OpenStack has lost and its days appear to be numbered would be somewhat of an overstatement. The platform has established itself on the market, although it is not as strong as its creators dreamed.

Data posted on Statista shows that in 2015, global revenue generated by OpenStack was $1.27 billion. By 2020, it was already $5.63 billion. In turn, 451 Research forecasts that this segment of the market will be worth $7.7 billion in 2023. The fastest growing region is expected to be Asia (36 per cent), followed by Latin America, (27 per cent), Europe (22 per cent), and North America (17 per cent).

The platform’s great popularity on the Asian market is largely due to the Chinese. OpenStack is used by Tencent and Baidu, among others, providers that scale their clouds for more than a billion customers. Tristan Goode, CEO of OpenStack Aptira, recalls on The Register website an OpenStack event held in Beijing, where one Chinese dignitary said the platform would break the monopoly of Western cloud providers. Experts point to another interesting phenomenon occurring in the Middle Kingdom. It turns out that Chinese hyperconverged infrastructure providers are mainly based on OpenStack. Even if their solutions fail to capture international markets, the number of Chinese SMBs using the platform could still be impressive. Of course, the list of major users of the solution goes far beyond China. OpenStack has been very well received among global telcos. Its users include AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, NTT Group, Orange, SK Telecom and Verizon. Other well-known brands that admit to using this platform are Intel, IBM, Sony, NetApp and Ericsson.

What does the future hold for OpenStack?

Last year, the OpenStack Foundation, which has managed the project since 2012, announced a name change to the Open Infrastructure Foundation. This decision was no surprise, as over the past few years the organisation has added new elements to the platform, well beyond the basic idea of OpenStack. In many ways it was more surprising that the organisation waited so long. More recently, the community has focused its work on supporting infrastructure in hybrid cloud and network edge environments, with improved support for K8s, service mesh, CI/CD and other native cloud technologies. There is much to suggest that the above-mentioned activities will bring tangible results, and that in the near future, service providers and technology providers will look at OpenStack with a more favourable eye. One application the platform is used for is running applications on virtual machines with complex networking and isolation requirements. The platform can also play an important role in the virtualisation of network devices. There are interesting prospects for OpenStack on the telecommunications market.

Recently, Samsung and Red Hat announced a partnership to help telecom service providers deploy 5G technology in various solutions such as 5G core networks, edge computing, the internet of things and machine learning. Both companies will use hybrid cloud solutions, including the Red Hat OpenStack Platform. Analysts also see another positive trend – alongside telecommunications and IT companies, the financial and automotive industries are also showing increasing interest in the platform.

OpenStack – the data security issue

Finally, it is worth mentioning the issue of data security. Since Openstack, arguably the world’s most popular open source cloud platform, is widely chosen by modern large enterprises to meet their needs for a more flexible cloud platform design, it needs robust protection.

Storware vProtect is a widely used solution for backup and recovery of the OpenStack platform as well as for Red Hat OpenStack. Learn more about data protection strategies for OpenStack.

text written by:

Pawel Maczka, CTO at Storware