What’s Ahead for OpenStack

OpenStack turns five this year, and the project has come a long way in its short life so far. Last year brought major improvements in areas such as upgradeability between versions and overall usability, which upped the appeal of OpenStack to enterprises while also netting important backers such as HP (acquired private cloud vendor and one-time OpenStack competitor Eucalyptus) and VMware (OpenStack was a recurring theme at VMworld 2014).

So what is ahead for OpenStack this year? For starters, there could be more work on NFV orchestration, which project contributors began to address in earnest with the Juno release in late 2014. We could also see further diversification of the OpenStack community, with VMware taking on Red Hat, as well as broader use of OpenStack for public cloud use cases in addition to private cloud, where it already has a strong presence.

OpenStack in 2015: Looking at VMware's rise and competition with Red Hat

The sudden prominence of VMware within the OpenStack community may seem ironic, since the formation of an open source stack for cloud infrastructure was largely a response to VMware's proprietary ecosystem. But diving into OpenStack may have been its best option, in the wake of vCloud Director failing to gain much traction as organizations instead flocked to OpenStack, CloudStack, etc.

MongoDB vice president Matt Asay, in a column for ReadWrite, pointed out that there may have been less than 100 vCloud Director deployments through early 2014, or less than half the number of OpenStack and CloudStack implementations out there. Rather than stay the course, VMware pivoted and unveiled VMware Integrated OpenStack last August, touting the solution's "developer-friendly, Amazon-style set of APIs."

For 2015, VMware's OpenStack efforts may be worth keeping an eye on. Speaking to ReadWrite, Mirantis CMO Boris Renski conceded that while OpenStack's use of the KVM hypervisor technically positions it as a competitor to ESXi, VMware, to a greater degree than even Red Hat, is essentially using its own flavor of OpenStack as a complement to its entrenched position in system administrator solutions, all in a bid to win over developers.

"Developers don't want to deal with the systems administrators or processes; they want direct, self-service access to their infrastructure," Renski stated. "Both VMware and Red Hat are effectively using their existing 'system administrator' offerings to wedge themselves into organizations to go after developers. The key difference is that VMware is a standard for at least 60 percent of systems administrators."

In a separate post for InformationWeek, Renski made three predictions about OpenStack, leading off with the contention that VMware would sign more OpenStack customers than Red Hat this year. Seeing that hypervisors have become commodities, VMware is instead keen to use OpenStack as a route to getting control over the software-defined data center.

Renski's argument made some sense: He pointed out that the essential advantage of OpenStack is being able to utilize existing infrastructure investments, which are likely to include vCenter licenses. OpenStack can be layered on top of what is already there, providing agility as well as savings.

What else could be ahead for OpenStack

Other possibilities for OpenStack in 2015 run the gamut from the uptake of Debian Linux as the vendor-neutral platform for OpenStack to the expansion of public cloud use cases for OpenStack. DreamHost Vice President of Cloud Jonathan LaCour has also expressed optimism about what could be ahead for the groups working on NFV within OpenStack.

Moreover, the entire direction of the OpenStack project could continue to shift toward stability, with less priority on introducing a slew of new features with each release. This trend was already noticeable last year and it could accelerate as the community consolidates around a few large contributors. Renski has memorably phrased this shift as the gradual end of "running the trunk."

The takeaway: VMware could be an interesting barometer of OpenStack's current state. Competition between VMware and Red Hat is definitely something to keep an eye on as the OpenStack ecosystem matures. The success of VMware, Red Hat, HP and other large contributors in winning over developers will go a long way toward determining which vendor ultimately gains the upper hand in the data center control plane.