Forget the technological announcements, the key takeaway from the summit is the sense of the community.
Thus spake a Canadian executive pondering his first OpenStack Summit and buoyed by the enthusiasm and sense of togetherness from the OpenStack users - or Stackers as they’re commonly known. He was right to touch on the sense of community - there’s an atmosphere closer to an evangelical meeting than an IT gathering, a heady mix of self-belief, enthusiasm and technical know-how, powered by countless cups of coffee.
The OpenStack Summit is held every six months, always tied to the latest release of the open source cloud platform and accompanied by a user survey that shows how well (or not) the technology is being adopted by the market. This latest summit was held in Tokyo, a reflection of the size of the OpenStack market in Asia (bigger than Europe) and an opportunity for some of the Asian service providers to talk about their offerings and how OpenStack was supporting some powerful offerings.
According to the latest user survey, these are good times for OpenStack. Sixty percent of deployments are now in full production and 89% of OpenStack implementations are now using Neutron, the networking project that, previously, has had a tough time being wholly accepted by the OpenStack community - there’s that word again - mainly because it was deemed too complex (and that’s saying something given the high level of tech expertise at the average OpenStack event). The conference attracts 5,000 users from 56 countries - not impressive by the standards of Oracle or Salesforce events perhaps, but a good turnout for a technology that’s just five years old.
There’s certainly a feeling that OpenStack is entering an era of new maturity. The latest version of the OpenStack software, Liberty offers the usual array of upgrades and new projects.These include better load-balancing, more robust security from the emergence of role-based access control (RBAC) which enables more fine-tuning within security settings.
There’s plenty about some of the newer technologies - such as the emerging network function virtualisation technology, which is being lined up to help telcos and service providers move from their vast racks of expensive – and proprietary hardware – to virtualised services. It’s a move that’s akin to the introduction of software-defined networking to data centres.
There’s plenty of interest from OpenStack users in container technology too. According to the user survey, it’s the technology that the Stackers are most interested in.
Among the new announcements in Liberty is the full availability of the Magnum container management project. This has been designed to make it easier to integrate containers with existing OpenStack services such as Nova, Ironic and Neutron. There’s also a new project in the pipeline, Kuryr, which looks to take container networking one stage further.
One of the most eye-catching of the new announcements is the introduction of a new Certified OpenStack Administrator qualification, the foundation’s attempt to address the skills shortage in the OpenStack world and bring together the various training bodies together into a single recognised qualification. The course has been designed by 14 companies, including the likes of Cisco, HP, Canonical, EMC, Rackspace and SUSE and will be run by the Foundation itself. The IT world has been dominated by professional certificates from single companies - Cisco, Oracle, MIcrosoft etc - and this level of co-operation to produce an independent qualification is impressive.
But then, that’s the overwhelming impression generated by the summit, a community (there’s that word again). According to OpenStack Foundation executive director, Jonathan Bryce, when engineers and developers get involved in OpenStack, it’s for the good of the technology:
On the technical side there’s very little conflict out there, they wear the OpenStack most of the time.
The ‘most of the time’ remark is telling. While it’s true that OpenStack is a community-driven project, commercial imperatives do rear their ugly head from time to time. One of the most noticeable aspects of every exhibition booth (and many of the presentations) is that companies make it clear that they’re hiring and there’s certainly a sense that there’s keen competition for the talent out there.
That’s something that’s true throughout the IT world, of course, and the OpenStack Foundation is attempting to address it: the new certificate is one initiative and the Intel/Red Hat Innovation Lab announced in the summer is another one. The foundation should also be commended for its diversity programme and its attempt to get more women involved. Again, this is something faced by the whole industry, but it was particularly noticeable in the keynotes when just three out of more than 20 speakers were female.
But despite all the positive energy generated by the event, in the outside world, not everything is so rosy, The cloud market is dominated by one supplier - a company with more than 80 percent of the public cloud market share and yet, Amazon Web Services was like Voldemort throughout the sessions - an enemy presence whose name must never be mentioned. There was little mention of Microsoft either, yet these are the real heavyweights in the cloud world.
OpenStack has had real difficulties in penetrating the enterprise: there’s the odd success story here and there but the enterprise remains an unexplored world for the technology. It was great hearing about the successes of the Asian telecoms giants, but when attendees at the Summit get to hear of a major ERP migration to the OpenStack platform, then the world will really take notice,
And yet, there are real positives to take away. When Alan Clark, chairman of the board of the OpenStack Foundation talks about the willingness to get more members involved and the need to tackle the fear felt by some in contributing to the community; there’s a real sense that this is a genuine belief and not mere sophistry. He serves on the board of the Linux Foundation too and, when asked to compare the two, talks with the feeling about the way that the OpenStack members will work together and help each other - with the unspoken comment that perhaps the Linux world is not so gentle.
This is what OpenStack does best: draws on some fantastic technical talents and combine them to make the best possible platform. It’s grown very quickly in just five years and supports a superb range of different projects, all powered by a community that does work efficiently, without rancour. But is that going to be enough as the cloud market matures and decisions are made from outside of the developers’ world – a strong sense of community can only take you so far.