If you follow cloud trends even lightly, chances are you've heard a good amount of hype about OpenStack. Recently, though, when I attended CA World in late April, I encountered a lot of OpenStack skepticism. One Citrix executive spun it like this: "OpenStack gets the PR; CloudStack gets the P.O.s."
Of course, since this was a Citrix exec, and since CA has joined the CloudStack community and ported its Nimsoft monitoring capabilities to CloudStack, I was skeptical about all of this CloudStack boosterism – until I started talking, on the record, to people using CloudStack.
The enthusiasm didn't dissipate.
Chris Swenson, the Director of Cloud Operations and Infrastructure for WebMD, first looked at OpenStack as a possible IaaS platform to build a private cloud that WebMD could use for testing and development.
"We did a proof of concept with OpenStack, but after spending a couple of weeks with it, we just felt like it wasn't enterprise ready," Swenson said. He pointed out that the POC was conducted a year ago, and that OpenStack is evolving constantly. However, he also said that using CloudStack is like turning to a contractor to build your house, whereas using OpenStack is like walking into Home Depot and figuring everything out on your own.
"We prioritized self-service provisioning, so if the interface isn't intuitive, it's going to be a problem for us," he said. With OpenStack, the interface was a problem.
Eric Schlesinger, VP of Technology for Proteus Technologies agrees with Swenson's assessment, and he tested out OpenStack much more recently, earlier this year. Proteus is a software and systems engineering solutions provider that serves the Intelligence community, the Department of Defense and Federal Executive departments.
Proteus employees work off-site constantly, where they don't have access to many of the resources they need to run quick tests or set up training. This past year, Schlesinger prioritized making life easier for his engineers, and setting up a private cloud was at the heart of that effort.
Proteus gave OpenStack a whirl, but the engineers weren't happy with it. Unless you're an OpenStack expert, he noted, it's not terribly intuitive and the documentation is not yet up to par.
"I hadn't even heard of CloudStack, to be honest with you," Schlesinger said. "But right away my team loved it." Proteus also tested out Eucalyptus, but they chose CloudStack for its "small footprint, solid documentation, and ease of use."
Another consideration for both WebMD and Proteus was compatibility with VMware. "We're a VMware shop, so the ability to integrate with vCenter was pretty high on our list of criteria," Swenson said.
Schlesinger, meanwhile, noted that while VMware integration was important, Proteus didn't want to get stuck being locked into that platform forever, which is why they went with CloudStack instead of a VMware cloud.
CloudStack Catches on with Service Providers
According to Citrix, more than 500 CloudStack-based clouds pop up every month. The vertical that took to CloudStack first was the service provider market, with BT, China Telecom, EVRY, IDCFrontier, KDDI, KT, NTT Communications, Orange MBS and Slovak Telecom all building on CloudStack.
ISWest, a regional ISP based 30 miles north of Los Angeles in Agoura Hills, wanted to roll out an IaaS offering to stay competitive in the cut-throat ISP market.
ISWest's business goal was to target existing business-class clients.
Many businesses still shy away from public clouds, and many of ISWest's clients were looking for a way to re-create their existing network environments in the cloud. Typically, these would rely on NAT and use few public IP addresses.
The trouble is that this type of configuration was either not possible with the big cloud providers (AWS, Rackspace, GoGrid), or was complex to configure. ISWest wanted to offer each client their own private network (or multiple private networks) with VPN access to them, and then VLANS would segregate various clients.
After evaluating a range of IaaS providers, including Eucalyptus, Enomaly, OpenNebula and OpenStack, ISWest selected CloudStack because it offered the most turnkey solution. In a bit more than a month, ISWest built an IaaS cloud on CloudStack, and now they have a new service offering to help protect their margins.
Reining in VM Sprawl
Another issue that Swenson of WebMD wanted to address was VM sprawl. "We've calculated that, at minimum, we have 15 percent VM sprawl," he said.
It's easy to understand why. Developers and QA engineers throw something into the cloud, forget about, and then those tests continue to consume resources.
Since CloudStack has an enterprise-ready management interface, it's easy for Swenson to enforce policies. "We encourage experimentation, but now we can set up rules." WebMD gives its developers a thirty-day window to test things out, and during that time, engineers don't need to allocate budget or even prove the project has merit.
However, when these projects are initially set up, they have expiration dates. If the project is a success after thirty days, it's moved out of the test cloud and given its own resources. If the project doesn't work out, it is retired automatically.
This capability also helps keep experiments in house, so WebMD developers use what WebMD has already paid for. "We let people experiment with AWS, but most successful projects come back. We have so much internal capacity that it's just cheaper, and you'll get higher performance, if you keep it in-house," Swenson said.
With VMs reigned in, many organizations want to move next to gaining visibility into infrastructure costs.
"If you jump right to chargebacks, I guarantee you'll experience resistance," Swenson said. "But showbacks are a different story." Showing various business units the VMs, storage, networking and other infrastructure resources attached to their projects changes the economics of them.
Well, the economics don't necessarily change, but the perception of them does. Few will want to tie up resources for a hair-brained scheme that should have been killed off before it ever tied up resources.
"You want it to be a collaborative process," Swenson said. "If you take the time to pull in the VM experts, the network experts, the st
orage ones, etc. and explain how this benefits them, it's not hard to get them to buy into it."
If you manage IT relationships deftly, you can then rein in costs without discouraging innovation.
Both Swenson and Schlesinger emphasized that having an in-house private cloud makes experimentation easier, more cost effective and much easier to manage. In other words, you don't want to discourage people from failing with their tests. You just want failing projects to fail quickly and stop tying up resources.
Jeff Vance is a Santa Monica-based writer. He's the founder of Startup50, a site devoted to emerging tech startups, and he also runs the content marketing firm, Sandstorm Media. Connect with him on Twitter @JWVance.