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OpenStack – an amoeba on a mission

According to NASA, 70% of the earth is covered by clouds. Apparently, at least 70% of our computing needs can be covered by clouds as well. That seems to be the shared belief by the rather large crowd that gathered in Boston last week for the Essex edition of the OpenStack Design Summit and subsequent OpenStack Conference.

The amount of energy and corporate investment in OpenStack is staggering when one considers that it didn’t exist 2 years ago, and didn’t really do much more than spawn VM’s and store objects until this month with the Diablo release, which added some more capabilities, but from my point of view, mostly just refined those abilities and set the stage for the future.

Attending as a member of the Ubuntu Server team and a Canonical employee was quite a gratifying experience. Ubuntu Server has been the platform of choice for OpenStack’s development, and that has definitely led to a lot of people running OpenStack on Ubuntu Server. Its always nice to hear that your work is part of something greater.

On the surface, one might be concerned at a lack of vision in the OpenStack project. With so many competing interests, it may appear that it has no clear vision and is just growing toward the latest source of funding or food, much like an amoeba swallowing up its next meal. But the leadership of the project seems to understand that there is still a much greater mission here, that without intense focus the project will expend enormous energy and accomplish little more than falling a little less behind established players in the marketplace.

Its a bit vindicating for one of my more intense current interests, Juju, that others who are close to this discussion, like OpenStackers, are thinking along the same lines. In talking with Puppet and Chef guys and with people who are using the cloud, its clear to me that my hunch is right; chef and puppet are not really the same thing as Juju. The new project from Cisco, Donabe, seems to be thinking exactly like Juju, wanting to encapsulate and describe each service in what they call “Network Containers”. Also I’m told the desires of the Neutronium PaaS project are pretty similar as well.

Ultimately we don’t think that the current limitations of known PaaS stacks are always worth the effort to integrate with them. We do want to have a lot of the same capabilities without having to duplicate all the effort to set them up. We want to be able to make use of well understood technologies without having to understand every detail of their deployment and configuration. If I want to make use of MySQL or memcached, I should understand how they work, but I shouldn’t have to duplicate the effort that others have had to put in to make them work.

Chef and Puppet have made some inroads into this by making such things highly repeatable and getting them all into source control. However, its my belief that their implementations both limit the network effect that they can have to build up a full set of sharable services. Juju, I think, will really be a boost to those who have spent a lot on solid config management, as that config management will be easy to chop up into Juju charms, and then that will open up all the other existing charms for immediate use in such a shop.

Getting back to how this relates to OpenStack, it was also quite exhilarating to do a live keynote demo of Juju in all of its alpha glory. To raise the tightrope a little higher, it was driving OpenStack Diablo, which some might call beta-quality. We also got rid of the safety nets entirely, and had it running on top of Ubuntu 11.10 (pre-release). We had a few kinks through the week, but the awesome team I had around me was able to iron them all out and made both our CEO, Jane Silber, and me look very good up there. That includes my fellow server team members, the OpenStack developers, Canonical IS pro’s, the Juju dev team, and my main collaborator in the whole thing, Jorge Castro.

I hope to attend the next ODS, to see how much closer OpenStack is to completing its mission in 6 months. What is that mission currently? Quite simple really.. the mission is, figure out the mission.

October 9, 2011 at 6:07 am
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