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OpenStack Comes of Age
by Diane Mueller

Diane Mueller, December 20, 2012

In the last few years, the ActiveState team was singing the blues more than once when deploying, stress testing, and versioning Stackato in fluctuating, early release, and poorly documented cloud environments. In this context, the OpenStack latest release called “Folsom release” is truly liberating for the open source cloud platform.

Folsom is the sixth release of OpenStack in its two-plus year history, and the community is now ramping up for another release due in six months, code name “Grizzly.” Folsom includes new networking and block storage features, as well as the reintroduction of Hyper-V support. With the Folsom release, OpenStack finally comes of age.

A Blossoming OpenStack Community

While ActiveState does not play favorites and deploys on any cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), the growth of the OpenStack community and the maturity of the Folsom release are encouraging. Others agree, including Ken Pepple, Vice President, OpenStack Solutions at Cloud Technology Partners (cloudTP).

"ActiveState's positive experiences integrating PaaS layers on OpenStack are emblematic of the feedback that we are getting from the community at large and validates the maturity of the OpenStack Folsom release,” Pepple says.

“By adding essential enterprise adoption features such as Private PaaS as ActiveState has done with Stackato, OpenStack has become truly enterprise-ready. The combination of Stackato and OpenStack should make even late adopting IT customers reevaluate their adoption schedules."

Horizon: The Face of OpenStack

What makes the Folson release stand out for OpenStack is the new version of the Horizon. Horizon is much more than just a dashboard. It acts as the unifying front end for the entire OpenStack experience, and is the key to opening enterprise IT doors. By providing a web front end to other OpenStack services, Horizon gives a face to OpenStack and makes it infinitely more demo-able.

The horizon dashboard provides the "face" of OpenStack (Credit: Ken Pepple)

OpenStack Architecture

Enterprises just won’t buy into OpenStack if all they can see is a command line interface. Even the most sophisticated software in the world needs a face to get approval from the C-level and IT managers, regardless whether it is a “free” or a ‘“low margin/high volume” product. If Amazon Web Services (AWS) did not have a user-friendly web console, very few people would have coughed up their credit cards for even a test ride.

With Folsom, enterprises finally get to see the sunshine. The new release comes with much improved documentation and user experience. Prior to Folsom, most entreprises relegated to OpenStack to proof of concepts and pilots. While there were some large scale Chef & Puppet-driven deployments, Folsom now squarely puts OpenStack in the enterprise magic quadrant. For the first time, analysts can touch and feel it, which gives them more confidence in the product.

With Quantum being a core project for the Folsom release, Horizon gets networking support in a big way, through the Networks panel in both the Project and Admin dashboards, and the Network tab in the Launch Instance workflow. Under the hood, Keystone authentication is now handled by a proper pluggable Django authentication back-end, which gives Horizon improved security.

Another cool new feature is the Resource Browser, an interface designed for browsing resources, which are nested under a parent resource. Swift, the object store is a prime example of this. Users can now enjoy a consistent top-level navigation for containers on the left-hand pane of the browser and can further explore containers and sub-folders on the right-hand pane.

Upcoming Challenges for OpenStack

With each new release, the deployment of OpenStack has become a smoother, more intuitive process, especially with the much more comprehensive documentation available. As multiple companies such as Nimbula, Nebula, Piston, MorphLabs/MediaTemple, Rackspace, SUSE, and more offer a variety of easily deployable commercial distributions, OpenStack is reminiscent of Linux in its early years, but is also different in many ways.

The community-driven development process is not so much burdened with infighting and politics and offers more stability, through frequent design summits. The changing nature of open source web-based development processes also plays a positive role, as well as the ongoing contributions of a more collaborative generation of developers.

With the OpenStack Foundation actively working on open and transparent governance, the real challenge now is to grow more contributors and technical resources to fill out projects. Companies are cherry-picking the best and brightest OpenStackers to come and work on their implementations and commercial offerings.

These are good problems to have, and yet another sign that OpenStack has come of age and keeps the train rolling in the right direction.

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Diane Mueller is a Cloud Evangelist at ActiveState. She has been designing & implementing financial applications at Fortune 500 corporations for over 20 years. Diane has been actively involved in development efforts of XBRL Open Standard (http://www.xbrl.org) since 1999.