June 18, 2018

OpenStack: The Road Ahead?

Last month, the OpenStack Summit in Vancouver lived up to my expectations. It was one of the most collaborative events I have seen in a long time. Well done to the organisers, who ensured the sense of collaboration and community came across in every session and keynote. Plus, a big thanks to all the participants, who successfully maintained this collaborative energy throughout the workshops, hall chats and external events. The opportunity to engage with people who are building and operating open infrastructure – with over 200 sessions and workshops on container infrastructure, public cloud, private and hybrid cloud  as well as learn more from members of open source communities such as Kubernetes, Docker, Ansible, Ceph and OpenStack, was truly insightful. It served to give us, as an email solutions vendor, food for thought as to where and how we want to take our solution forward for the benefit of our customers.

Whilst my colleague Matt Bryant presented at the Summit in Sydney last year, this was my first time attending OpenStack. I really enjoyed the general agenda, but I was especially grateful to be invited to the roundtable discussions, where we had the chance to take questions from respected journalists and analysts. Not only were they interested in how we use OpenStack for email, but also how our white label email solutions are currently benefitting customers – both commercially and technically. An additional surprise was being invited to do a Cube interview with tech industry professionals, Stu Miniman and John Troyer.


OpenStack Vancouver 2018 - Photo credit: Jason Brown, Global Solutions Architect, atmail
OpenStack Vancouver 2018. Photo credit: Jason Brown, Global Solutions Architect, atmail.


So, what is OpenStack?

Simply put, it is a free, open source software platform for cloud computing, mostly commonly deployed as infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS). It is currently managed by the OpenStack Foundation, a non-profit corporate entity to promote OpenStack software and its community. Currently, membership of the community stands at over 500 companies, including the likes of SUSE, Cisco Systems, AT&T, Fujitsu, Dell, Intel, Red Hat, Rackspace and Huawei. Incidentally these companies listed make up the majority of their board of directors.


What are OpenStack Summits?

OpenStack Summits are conferences organised and run by the OpenStack Foundation, for the benefit of their active community. The Summits are usually scheduled every six months, immediately after each OpenStack software release cycle. The dates change slightly from year to year, but in general the Summits take place in April-May and October-November. Aside from the recent Summits in Vancouver and Sydney, previous Summit locations have included Boston, Barcelona, Austin, Tokyo, Atlanta, Paris, Portland, Hong Kong, San Francisco, San Diego, Santa Clara and San Antonio. The next Summit will take place this November in Berlin.


What’s the road ahead for OpenStack?

OpenStack as a product is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the explosive growth in open source software.  We use the platform (as well as AWS) here at atmail and we’re big fans. However, for all the positivity I brought back from the Vancouver Summit, my overriding concern is that there is no commercial vehicle driving OpenStack.

What do I mean by this? Having attended other cloud summits, such as those by AWS and Microsoft’s Azure – and having worked with both of those organisations closely – I can immediately see how to engage commercially with these two behemoths. Both have teams that provide sales and partner support in creating go-to-markets and generating revenue. Their partner programs are designed to create mutually beneficial commercial success, whilst their self-service and automation services are exemplary. I believe these are key to the survival of the IaaS community. Because without them, advancing with OpenStack is reliant upon organisations having the finances and resources to build their own partner programs, which makes it difficult for smaller companies to consume (and enjoy the true value of) OpenStack services? The thought is that if OpenStack could transform from a utility to a commodity that can be more easily consumed, it would enhance the power and sustainability of the platform and its community.

Whilst I concede that the OpenStack community might be far more appealing to organisations going the private cloud route, from what I’ve seen, the commercial arm is absent and this is a problem that needs to be addressed if the software platform is to grow significantly in the future. To quote a recent conversation with a UK CTO, “OpenStack is for technical people. AWS/Azure is for business people with great technical people.”

Therefore, for a vendor like ourselves, who have an experienced and knowledgeable technical team, the technical engagement works well and we have seen success as a result of this. But from the commercial side, it is difficult to engage or have any clear visibility on the commercial collaboration going forward with OpenStack. Yes, you could argue that one company is more suitable for private cloud and another is more suitable for public, but this is not clear cut and may not be the best delineation for OpenStack.

Despite the number of top organisations with significant OpenStack initiatives and the momentum building behind that, a recent Gartner report rates six Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) providers and not one of them is OpenStack, which only reinforces concerns about the software platform’s current standing.

I sincerely hope over time that OpenStack’s commercial model will change. It has so much potential that it’d be a shame if their growth trajectory slowed because they did not build out a sophisticated commercial arm.


Telcos and ISPs

Finally, I’d be interested to hear from telcos and ISPs as to their OpenStack and Open Infrastructure initiatives. Are these important to you and are you building consumer services on the back of these? Or are you only going down the AWS and Azure route? Either way, let’s talk, learn from each other and, in the spirit of OpenStack, see how we could genuinely collaborate.



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