Boris Renski, CMO and co-founder of Mirantis, created a stir yesterday with his blog post, “Infrastructure Software is Dead,” which calls into question the viability of having users deploy and operate infrastructure software such as OpenStack on their own.
Boris says it was a long time coming but he now realizes that you help customers be successful with OpenStack not by building a better mousetrap but by offering a better service.
Given its history and involvement in the OpenStack project, we are gratified to see Mirantis begin to embrace our point of view. From the beginning, Rackspace knew that building a successful cloud would involve not only the right software but also the right operational and services model.
That intuition has been validated though five years of running the world’s largest OpenStack public cloud and partnering with enterprises to build the largest production OpenStack private clouds.
So what did Boris say?
In his post, Boris acknowledges the Mirantis’ success is not due to its superior OpenStack product. “Everybody’s OpenStack software is equally bad,” he writes. “It’s all full of bugs, hard to upgrade and a nightmare to operate. It’s all bad.”
Instead Boris says the reason Mirantis has been successful “is because, despite ourselves, outcomes are what we’ve been able to deliver to our customers by complementing crappy OpenStack software with hordes of talented infrastructure hackers that made up for the gaps.”
But instead of lamenting this reality, Boris believes it’s time we all acknowledge that the benefits of consuming infrastructure software as a product shrinking, and and we should all embrace “a service to operate that software” model. The bottom line, he says, is that customers don’t care about software, they care about the outcomes created with that software.
And the best approach to driving to this outcome is a services-first approach.
Cloud infrastructure is hard
While we quibble with the idea that OpenStack is “bad” (we’d say complicated), we couldn’t agree more about the service approach.
OpenStack is moving to a stage of adoption that will be driven, not by tinkerers and technologists, but by businesses looking for an outcome: business agility and rapid innovation powered by a cloud platform they can easily consume without bearing the burden of operations. Customers want to spend their valuable time and resources creating new applications and solving business problems, not figuring out how to upgrade their infrastructure, make networking work at scale, or laboriously find bottlenecks in their OpenStack cloud.
But as Boris points out, building and running OpenStack yourself requires doing all too much undifferentiated labor and hiring “hordes of talented infrastructure hackers.”
While we think Boris is overstating things when he calls OpenStack “crappy software,” we agree with him that cloud infrastructure software can be too complex for typical users. That is a function, we believe, not of bad software, but of software that is still maturing into a role as complex as being the underpinning for a public or private cloud.
There’s a reason Rackspace is one of the few companies that operate a cloud at the scale at we do. The complexity may be reduced as OpenStack matures, but the reality is there will is and won’t be an easy way to operate your own cloud.
That’s why from the very beginning, Rackspace has advocated consuming OpenStack clouds, public or private, as a service. As Mirantis has discovered, the best way to deliver infrastructure to customers is not as a product, but as as “a service to operate that software.” We believe the customers who understands this and buys into this delivery model is best positioned to achieve the business outcome they are looking for.
Managed services provide the best outcomes
Most OpenStack software vendors are happy to provide professional services to help customers deploy and get going with their OpenStack clouds. Yet while this allows customers to get started, it doesn’t solve the long term problem of having to operate that cloud on a daily basis. What happens when the hordes of talented infrastructure hacker consultants are done with their professional services engagement and leave for another assignment? How many customers are capable of taking over operations once the vendor OpenStack gurus are gone?
While the professional services model can help deliver short-term gains, we believe only the managed services model can guarantee long term results. By taking on the burden of ongoing management of our customers’ OpenStack clouds, Rackspace enables those customers to focus on building and running applications to grown and strengthen their businesses without worrying about operating the infrastructure.
Managed services for OpenStack allows our customers to leverage not only our expertise with OpenStack software but all our experience operating public and private clouds.
Because the reality is, being a cloud operations expert means more than just being able to run a piece of software. It’s also about knowing how to operate an always-on service that provides on-demand resources at large scale.
There are only a handful of companies who, like Rackspace, understand what it takes to do this. Most are learning it in real time with their customers’ deployments as the training ground, especially when a vendor’s only experience is with packaging software or providing professional services.
Finding the right partner
Open Source is a great software and hardware development model. Rackspace is proud to have been one of the founders of OpenStack and the project’s current standard-bearer. We are humbled by the great community that has grown up around it. But customer success isn’t about finding the right open source project; it’s about finding the right partner.
As more folks in the community recognize that the best way to deliver the best outcome for users is through an OpenStack as a service delivery model, we expect more service options will be available to customers. These will range from longer term resident services engagements that replace traditional shorter term professional services engagements to true managed services delivery models. As these options proliferate, it will be more important than ever for customers to choose the right partner. Customers need to ask:
- Who has the most experience and expertise operating OpenStack clouds?
- Who has experience not only running OpenStack software but operating clouds at scale?
- Who has the infrastructure and methodology in place to provide true managed OpenStack services?
Boris is right — delivering OpenStack is about making customers successful through the right outcomes, and a services-first approach is the best delivery model. At Rackspace, we welcome customers to embrace the OpenStack delivery model we first pioneered. As Boris and others may grudgingly agree,” OpenStack as a product is dead! Long live OpenStack as a Service!”