Do enterprises want to operate or consume an OpenStack cloud?

When OpenStack was first developed, it seemed that every business had grand plans to adopt this futuristic technology. Enterprises had been crying out for an IT solution which delivered a fast, scalable, cost-effective service and many organisations anticipated that within a couple of months they would have migrated all their IT requirements onto OpenStack.

[easy-tweet tweet=”#OpenStack has become a compatibility standard for the private #cloud market” user=”comparethecloud” usehashtags=”no”]

OpenStack has become a compatibility standard for the private cloud market. Some traditional enterprises boast great success stories: despite not being ‘born digital’ like Facebook or Netflix, giants such as Disney and BMW are successfully using OpenStack with private clouds and are proof that it is ready for production environments.

The majority of companies however are nowhere closer to implementing OpenStack solutions in-house than they were two years ago. The reasons for this vary – whether cultural, operational or political – but the main barrier seems to be that in-house IT departments have yet to start treating infrastructure as a commodity.

cultural, operational and political barriers are still preventing OpenStack Adoption

Perhaps this is not surprising: many in-house IT teams currently lack the operating models, business structures and skillsets required to efficiently and cost effectively manage the transition from proprietary models to OpenStack. Similarly, whilst OpenStack is an excellent choice for enabling new, innovative production environments, it is currently too expensive and complicated to rewrite applications in order to migrate existing estates to the cloud. Enterprises face an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Enterprises face an if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it mentality.” user=”comparethecloud” hashtags=”openstack”]

Such reluctance to migrate away from existing infrastructure is only exacerbated when organisations do not feel equipped to make sense of the key challenges, decisions and expertise needed to get started with OpenStack.

Operating an OpenStack private cloud requires a specific, technical skill set and enterprises are often discouraged by the complexity of the technology facing them. OpenStack operators must demonstrate a skilled architectural approach and an advanced understanding of system administration skills. They must have a desire and high tolerability for risk and be willing to engage with and contribute to the open source community.

The ideal team therefore requires a deep knowledge of modern DevOps, traditional systems administration and network engineering. Most traditional IT professionals are likely to specialise in only one of these areas – it is a rare combination to find all three in one employee, let alone a whole team.

Similarly, whilst traditional in-house IT operators are used to manual configuration, by contrast, the OpenStack operator’s role is steadily shifting towards codifying the design of infrastructure in software. This results in speed, agility, repeatability and cost effectiveness, but complicated underlying infrastructure. There are few cloud vendors adept enough to operate OpenStack cloud platforms. For most businesses the challenge is almost impossible.

There are few cloud vendors adept enough to operate OpenStack cloud platforms

Although the barrier to entry for operators may have risen, it has never been easier to be a consumer of OpenStack. Whilst operators must devote time to improving the platform and evolving service offerings, any developer can now spin up and use infrastructure without investing time, money and resources to manage the stack themselves. The era of the cloud tenant has arrived.

So, what does it require to be an adept consumer of OpenStack? Infrastructure may be easier than ever to spin up, but in-house IT departments still need to take responsibility for securing and stabilising platforms effectively. 

Consuming a hosted cloud requires a different skillset to operating it. A consumer does not just need to focus on what distribution to buy and on which hardware to deploy it. The savviest cloud tenants are able to evaluate the maturity of service offerings, assess platform security performance and monitor usage to asses cost effectiveness. An adept cloud tenant becomes a confident user of IaaS and provider of PaaS on top of that infrastructure.

One of the most important decisions an OpenStack consumer will make is choosing a vendor partner. Whilst adopting OpenStack directly avoids vendor lock-in and mitigates licensing costs, most enterprises do not have resource or confidence to develop in-house expertise. A vendor committed to open source software should help you navigate around lock-in and manage the continuous upgrades, bug fixes and releases offered by the OpenStack platform. An experienced vendor will become an invaluable extension of your in-house team.

There is no doubt in the IT enterprise psyche that OpenStack private cloud offers significant advantages; OpenStack addresses regulatory requirements, network latency and security concerns and allows a business to become more agile, innovative and competitive. OpenStack cloud tenancy unlocks the door for those enterprises historically prohibited from operating this new technology due to cost, skill and resource deficiencies. The ability, and desire, to become an OpenStack consumer marks a long awaited tipping point in the traditional IT mind-set and marks a significant step towards enterprise IT professionals treating infrastructure as a commodity.

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