Open Source

Open Source and OpenStack: Complexity and lack of knowledge raise risks

Open source solutions offer a cost advantage with their free licenses or low license costs. However, there are costs associated with these solutions that should not be neglected. On the one hand, specialized knowledge is necessary to build and develop open source cloud infrastructure. On the other hand, administrators have to ensure proper infrastructure operations, for which task extensive skills regarding solution administration and maintenance are requisite. In most cases, these skills are acquired via external expert knowledge such as advisory or developer resources.

Furthermore, users who decide to build their cloud on pure open source software, are limited to the support dependency of the open source project. This could be tough and painful, since support is generally provided by forums, chats, Q&A systems and bug tracking systems. In addition, it is well received when users are actively participating and playing a part in contributing to the project, a behavior generally not needed in the commercial world of software. Luckily, commercial-oriented vendors of open source cloud software have already identified the service gap and provide support through professional services, as part of special license plans for enterprises.

Despite a high level of flexibility and openness as well as a decrease in license costs, it is inherently important to understand that OpenStack is not just a piece of software. Instead, the open source cloud management solution is based on a collection of specific components, among others, for compute (Nova), storage (Swift, Cinder) and networking (Neutron) capabilities, which must be tightly integrated to build a complete and powerful OpenStack based cloud environment. The whole project takes in new functionalities with each release. In addition, a community of developers and vendors participates with further add-ons and source code for maintenance purposes and other improvements. Therefore, the use of OpenStack can lead to unpredictable complexity and overall risk increases.

IT organizations who attempt to deal with this complexity on their own by integrating all components from scratch and being up-to-date at all times, tend to expose themselves to the risk of creating their own, unmanageable cloud solution instead of using an industry compliant standard. The precise customization of OpenStack to the individual company requirements can easily lead to an OpenStack environment that is incompatible with external OpenStack based cloud infrastructure. Thus, the connection of internal and external cloud infrastructure in a hybrid scenario becomes quite tricky.

The increasing relevance of OpenStack as a central technology component within cloud environments leads to a higher demand for specialized consultancy, integration and support services. This market is still in the nascent stage and big IT vendors are currently training and improving their staff knowledge. After all, the present supply of readily trained, skilled and experienced OpenStack administrators, architects and cloud service broker is negligible. CIOs should immediately plan how to build basic skill levels for OpenStack within their IT organizations. Even if specialized service contractors can help during the implementation and operation of OpenStack based clouds, IT architects and managers should still have the main responsibility and know what is happening. OpenStack is not an instant meal that just needs to be warmed up but rather a complex technology platform composed of several individual components whose configuration is rather matching the preparation of a multi-course gourmet dinner. Skills and passion are on the most wanted list.

By Rene Buest

Rene Buest is Gartner Analyst covering Infrastructure Services & Digital Operations. Prior to that he was Director of Technology Research at Arago, Senior Analyst and Cloud Practice Lead at Crisp Research, Principal Analyst at New Age Disruption and member of the worldwide Gigaom Research Analyst Network. Rene is considered as top cloud computing analyst in Germany and one of the worldwide top analysts in this area. In addition, he is one of the world’s top cloud computing influencers and belongs to the top 100 cloud computing experts on Twitter and Google+. Since the mid-90s he is focused on the strategic use of information technology in businesses and the IT impact on our society as well as disruptive technologies.

Rene Buest is the author of numerous professional technology articles. He regularly writes for well-known IT publications like Computerwoche, CIO Magazin, LANline as well as and is cited in German and international media – including New York Times, Forbes Magazin, Handelsblatt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Wirtschaftswoche, Computerwoche, CIO, Manager Magazin and Harvard Business Manager. Furthermore Rene Buest is speaker and participant of experts rounds. He is founder of and writes about cloud computing, IT infrastructure, technologies, management and strategies. He holds a diploma in computer engineering from the Hochschule Bremen (Dipl.-Informatiker (FH)) as well as a M.Sc. in IT-Management and Information Systems from the FHDW Paderborn.