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OpenStack revenues growing - but the container threat looms

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez October 24, 2016
OpenStack Summit 2016 kicked off in Barcelona today, with all signs indicating that the open source technology is entering into mainstream adoption in the enterprise.

Server room interior © Oleksiy Mark -
The OpenStack community, and the revenues that are being derived from OpenStack business models, are seeing strong growth, according to the latest report from 451 Research.

Mark Collier, Chief Operating Officer at the OpenStack Foundation, the “independent home of OpenStack”, took to the stage at the organisation’s 2016 Summit in Barcelona this week to talk about the findings of the research and to highlight how the open source technology is achieving mainstream adoption in the enterprise market.

The 451 report states that revenues from OpenStack business models are likely to exceed $5 billion by 2020 and grow at a 35% CAGR. It also points to a growing number of use cases outside of test and development, with a wide variety of industries using OpenStack for a wide variety of applications.

Collier said:

One of the things that jumped out at me, looking at the data, is that it’s a very diverse set of industries adopting OpenStack. The key takeaway for me is that 80% of these companies are not in the technology industry per se. And so I think that’s a really good sign of OpenStack’s maturity, that it’s now being used for work that matters across all kinds of industries. Sometimes we get real excited about telling you that Walmart is running OpenStack, which is amazing, but the reality is that there are lots of companies of different sizes running OpenStack.

Another key metric is how big these clouds are. If you look at the number of cores, people are really doing serious work when it comes to OpenStack cloud. 75% of them are running more than 1,000 cores. In fact that they talked to a number of users running over 100,000 cores. So people are running in production, they’re doing stuff that makes their business tick.

Collier put OpenStack’s growth and success down to the growing and diverse community of members and supporting organisations. 451’s report highlighted how these numbers have grown to 60,000 and over 600 respectively, in just six years since the organisation’s launch. Collier said:

Open community means that everyone is involved, everyone has a seat at the table. Especially users. This model is better, we do it because it’s better. You can have as much access as you can handle to the development process. You can look at it, you can keep an eye on it, you can monitor it. It’s all there, it’s all available.

Why it’s better - it brings a much broader set of contributors. We had over 2,000 contributors from 300 organisations [for the latest release]. We don’t just build our software in a small room in Silicon Valley or Seattle. We have people all over the world. That’s a different way to build software.

Threats and challenges remain

However, despite the successes to date - and let’s remember that this is an open source project that is still fairly new to the market - there still remained some challenges. And there are potential threats lurking around the corner.

For example, 451 highlights that OpenStack faces a challenge with providing product roadmaps to its users - given the nature of how the technology is developed, by crowdsourcing from contributing members and organisations.

The OpenStack Foundation launched a product working group in 2014 in an attempt to address these concerns, which is making progress, but it can’t be denied that buyers are used to getting multi-year insights from vendors when making product purchasing decisions. Particular attention is being given to the availability of tools to operate OpenStack at scale. Not an insurmountable challenge, but a challenge nonetheless.

Equally, the report highlights that the lack of skilled workers is also a concern for enterprises, service providers and OpenStack vendors. The shortage is making the current pool of resources expensive in comparison to VM-skilled engineers that are more readily available. Again, the Foundation is working to change this, having launched its formal training certificates - for which 500 engineers are signed up. Whilst 451 notes that this is nowhere near enough of a ‘pool’, with partner organisations coming on board, this figure should increase.

451 is also uncertain from its research that OpenStack is convincing all buyers about all use cases. For example, it states:

OpenStack mindshare continues to grow for enterprises interested in deploying cloud-native applications in greenfield private cloud environments. However, its appeal is limited for legacy applications and for those enterprises comfortable with hyperscale multi-tenant cloud providers like AWS and Microsoft Azure.

There are several marquee enterprises with OpenStack as the central component of cloud transformations, but many enterprises are still leery of the perceived complexity associated with configuring, deploying and maintaining OpenStack-based architectures.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, 451 Research addresses the opportunity/challenge of containers for OpenStack. The topic of containers - both at the system and application level - whilst complementary to OpenStack in many way, could soon present a competitive threat to the community. When it comes to application containers, 451 writes:

While a nascent, enterprise market, containers have become a significant part of the OpenStack ecosystem and market. While container software such as Docker is mostly complementary to OpenStack as yet another use case for the IaaS software, we are also seeing a trend toward OpenStack on top of containers, with container management and orchestration software (which could be more competitive to OpenStack) serving as the management layer and OpenStack IaaS becoming more like PaaS.

And when it comes to system containers, it notes:

Despite this, system containers sit below OpenStack to manage it and this could mean container software is more likely to replace OpenStack. The shift in thinking of containers running underneath OpenStack highlights an effort to head off competition from system containers, but it also signals that even though OpenStack is more mature than modern container software, it may have to yield to what appears to be a larger, more disruptive trend in containers.

Worryingly, buyers seem to be adopting containers at a faster rate than OpenStack. Earlier 451 research found that most organisations do not have OpenStack in use (69.3%), whereas container adoption seems to be further along with higher adoption at (50.1%). The authors of the report write:

In addition, just as we saw OpenStack eclipse CloudStack in terms of mindshare and market activity, there is a danger that OpenStack is minimized and displaced by containers in buyers’ minds.

A use case

However, despite the cautiousness in some areas, the OpenStack Foundation did a fantastic job of highlighting some of its most interesting OpenStack users during the Summit’s opening keynote. One of which came from Sky UK, which is a European media company with over 30,000 employees and 22 million subscribers.

Sky has gone in big with OpenStack, using it in two of its main data centres, and now operating 7,000 cores. Matt Smith, infrastructure design manager at Sky, took to the sage and said:

Sky’s products are driven by technology. We have lots of applications, lots of development teams. All these applications need somewhere to run. Instead of having lots of cloud islands of different infrastructure, we decided we would need a software defined data centre to deliver our applications on - including software defined networking and software defined storage. So we sort of have a one stop shop for delivering our infrastructure to our teams.

So it isn’t for one use case, it’s for all parts of the business at Sky. We were looking for flexibility, looking for something highly scalable, speed of delivery for applications, and to self serve on a single platform. One of the primary drivers was cost - total cost of ownership for the platform had to be public cloud operators and also an enterprise vendor solutions. The only solution that we found was OpenStack, it was the only one that fitted.

Smith explained that Sky now has over 80 projects on the platform, and is using to for test and dev, as well as full productions apps. Over 400 users make use of the OpenStack platform. It is underpinning two core applications at Sky - the company’s new tv set-top box app, Sky Q, and a dashboard for senior executives. Smith said:

Some of the applications on the platform include Sky’s latest set-top box. From the OpenStack platform we can push out software updates. And we also receive user journey information back into our OpenStack platform. All the Sky Q boxes report back how the users interact with the platform and analyse this data, refine the software and push new software out. It’s made the delivery and receipt of all this information a bit of a seamless process.

We also use a very high profile application - this is called the CEO dashboard. This collects information from across Sky’s business - so, how many people are watching football, how many people are calling up our call centres, how many people are purchasing things through our online shop, how many people are purchasing through Sky Store. It’s a single pane dashboard for our CEO and his executive, to gauge how the business is doing. A good example of using OpenStack to do something really important.

My take

A solid first day from OpenStack Summit. You get a sense that the community and the technology is coming into its own - some of the use cases on stage this morning were genuinely interesting. As 451 notes, however, there are still certain aspects that need to mature. I’ve got some customer interviews lined up tomorrow with some large enterprise users, so I will be able to learn more from those discussions. Will report back!

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