OpenStack Goes Mile-High: Road Show Stops In Colorado

The second stop on the RoadStackRV road show was right outside the beautiful city of Boulder, Colo. We drove from Los Angeles overnight. We left behind palm trees, highs in the 80s and sandy beaches and encountered mountain passes, snow and temps within the hot chocolate range. It was quite the change of scenery.

Alas, we arrived at our location at the DaVinci Institute, which was launched in 1997 as a non-profit futurist think tank. The DaVinci Institute has emerged as a center of visionary thought, attracting both a national and international following of inventors, innovators, idea junkies and business leaders alike. The audience in Boulder was a highly technical bunch, of which many have played with OpenStack in some form or function, and/or were current Rackspace and Dell customers already! It’s always nice to get out and meet customers face to face; they always offer candid feedback and that’s the type of stuff we love to hear. It’s the job of all Rackers to hear out problems and engage the right people to get problems solved! This time around we had representatives from HP, Level3, OpsCode, various government agencies and many local start-ups — about 40 total in attendance — our biggest turnout yet!

Jim Plamondon started us off again with his “Cloud 101” deck to ensure everyone was on the same page when it came to cloud computing. This went pretty flawlessly, as the audience had a fairly solid understanding of cloud already. But something I liked was a guy sitting next to me whispering, “Oh, that’s a good point.” This was one of the most technical guys in the room, and it just goes to show that reviewing the basics rarely ever hurts.

As we moved into the second part of the presentation, the agenda was simple: OpenStack Foundation, Rackspace adoption of OpenStack and lastly bits and pieces from the Folsom Design Summit & Conference. Off the bat, there was a slew of questions about the Foundation. This has been a pretty hot topic of late, especially with the news last week that Red Hat and IBM joined the Foundation as Platinum sponsors. The questions ranged from “What do you expect Red Hat’s role to be with their current slate of open-source cloud products?” to “What license is OpenStack governed by?” to “Why would Rackspace want to move OpenStack into a standalone foundation?” The answers were simple: Red Hat has an enterprise interest with its Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) distribution, so it will likely look to enter the OpenStack world with a similar product, as Red Hat stated in a press release FAQ about its membership to the OpenStack Foundation.

Transitioning into Rackspace’s adoption of OpenStack into our next generation cloud was a fun topic that created lots of stir. Rarely outside of the OpenStack Conference can you refer to OpenStack projects by their codenames only and everyone knows what you are talking about, e.g., Nova as Compute, Keystone as Identity Service, etc. Much of the crowd knew  these details, and knew what it means that Rackspace now runs these projects in some sort of production or limited availability today. It means that OpenStack and its projects are real. Two years ago some of these projects did not even exist — except as some scribbles on a whiteboard. To go from whiteboard scribble to an enterprise productized solution is a huge win for OpenStack and anyone who plans to use it for either business or personal gain.

The biggest part of the discussion was around how people would start to use the projects to build their own clouds. There was a misconception that all of the code Rackspace uses today is available for download. Due to each company having its own use cases and business practices, there will always be a part of code that will be have to be catered to one’s use. The load balancer as a service project, Atlas, was wholly written by Rackspace developers and open-sourced. The integration code to our systems and our special sauce (billing, monitoring, etc.) are of no use to others with systems that are totally different. This meant that around 80 percent of the code was released to the public, which then allows the community to make infrastructure of software choices that best suit them.

The last part of the presentation was dominated by conversations around community, deployment and stability. There were many folks in the crowd that had hands-on experience with OpenStack and they shared many of the pain points I’ve heard at some of the other OpenStack meet-ups I’ve attended over the past couple years: Documentation is scattered; it’s not easy to setup an OpenStack cloud; and if you do happen to get it deployed, it’s hard to migrate to a new release. From the documentation and communication standpoint, there was a good amount of progress made at the Summit. All documentation will now be hosted on GitHub and will be able to use the benefits of the version control software. Discussion around mailing list clean-up and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) reorganization was positive and will help people focus more on the things that they want to work on and not drown in the sea of information that OpenStack produces.  Overall, I felt the communication changes will be good for the project and I’m looking forward to the leaps of progress we’ll see due to these changes.

The conversation then turned to deployment — a topic dear to my heart. OpenStack is growing at such a rapid pace that it’s hard to keep deployment guides, best practices and reference architectures up to date. What if there was a single tool that would deploy a cloud for you, using packages that have been thoroughly tested and known to work? Say hello to Crowbar, an OpenStack installer written and open-sourced by Dell. Teaming up with Rackspace, Dell is deploying fully operational OpenStack clouds on bare-metal servers. If you’ve been to any major cloud conferences in the past 18 months or so, you may have seen Crowbar do its magic live. If not, you can check out the latest recorded Crowbar demo from Austin DevOpsDays 2012.

We ended the session discussing stability and upgrade paths, two topics that have become increasingly important as OpenStack moves towards more production deployments. There was a lot of news in this department — there was a dedicated session to discuss proper packaging across Linux distributions along with an announcement from Mark Shuttleworth from Ubuntu that Ubuntu will backport future releases of OpenStack into its LTS release. I was also pleasantly surprised to see a “Deploy/Ops” track at this Summit. It is no longer a matter of if but when.

The momentum behind OpenStack has clearly increased as the aforementioned events illustrate. We are watching a revolution happen, and it’s one heck of a show, but I still say we’ve barely seen anything yet!

Wayne Walls is a Cloud Architect at Rackspace, where he evangelizes global cloud strategy. A tenured technology leader, Wayne has engineered complex technical solutions, delivered IT transformation plans, and implemented multiple training initiatives around cloud computing. Co-maintainer of the Rackspace Developer blog, Wayne is helping developers, engineers, and executives understand cloud technologies and how to turn that knowledge into tangible returns. He holds a B.S. of Information Systems and a B.A. of Economics from the University of Oklahoma. Follow him on Twitter at @waynewalls.


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