How to Use OpenStack in an SME

The OpenStack cloud platform works well for companies that aim to deploy software or infrastructure as a service but remain wary of doing so using public cloud services. Here's how to find out if OpenStack is right for your business.


Interest in the OpenStack project is steadily increasing. Founded by Rackspace Hosting and NASA in 2010, OpenStack has evolved into a large community of developers collaborating on a standard open source cloud operating system. Various software distributions of OpenStack are available, and all the code is freely downloadable under the Apache 2.0 license.

Since its inception, the OpenStack Foundation has attracted more than 200 companies. The technology is known to be implemented at widely recognized organizations such as Best Buy, Bloomberg and PayPal. This article takes a closer look at the benefits OpenStack offers and explores some practical ways you can deploy it in your businesses.

Saying 'No' to Proprietary Cloud

Before looking at how OpenStack can be deployed, it's important to first understand the value proposition that it offers. Specifically, OpenStack serves as a cloud-centric software platform for companies looking to deploy their own private cloud infrastructure. Its appeal: The weaknesses of public cloud platforms.

Cloud services such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Compute Engine and Microsoft Azure are proprietary platforms that automatically locks users into their platform.

AWS, for example, has its own application programming interface (API) and software stack, which means businesses can't easily migrate to a competing cloud provider. As you can imagine, this could be a big issue for a company developing a strategic application.

While all cloud services offer a service level agreement (SLA), it tends to be the same for all customers. In some instances, it's inadequate. In contrast, an abundance of OpenStack service providers theoretically makes it easier to find a suitable provider that offers adequate response time or predictability.

A quick look at various cloud outages makes it clear that businesses can't control when they take place - and often remain in the dark as to the severity and exact status of restoration work.

The final OpenStack advantage may be most intractable of all: Data privacy. Depending on the services offered, or the type of organization, certain data may be prohibited by law to be stored in public cloud infrastructure. While a hybrid cloud deployment where sensitive data is kept on premise could sidestep this issue, the potential for vendor lock-in and data inaccessibility remains.

Getting Started on OpenStack: Watch Your Workloads

The first thing you must do prior to OpenStack deployment is identify the workload that you intend to run using OpenStack. "Everything begins and ends with the workload," says Adrian Ionel, CEO of Mirantis, a pure-play OpenStack vendor. "Think about the use case, be very clear and have a plan for it."

John Zanni, the CMO of Parallels, says businesses should find a partner "with a proven and deep knowledge of their specific requirements" for OpenStack deployment and management. "This is a critical step that will significantly contribute to making it easier and more compelling for businesses to adopt OpenStack and reap the benefits, both in the short and long terms," he adds.

You may be tempted to modify the open source code in OpenStack for the best fit possible, but it may not be a good idea in the long run. "Don't plan a 'Franken-cloud,'" Ionel warns. Organizations that download the community version of OpenStack, "make a ton of changes" and then proceed to implement it in a way that's unique to them will "pay for it very dearly," he says.

Alan Perkins, CTO for Rackspace in the Asia-Pacific region, suggests that businesses looking to start small with OpenStack could deploy it in a laptop in a virtual machine. When it comes to a real production or internal commercial environment, though, he suggests at least two servers. "These two computers can serve as controllers with 64GB of RAM and 32GB of RAM, respectively. You add additional computers from there," he says.

Companies looking for capabilities that have yet to make it into an official distribution of OpenStack, as well as firms looking to avoid inadvertently creating a Franken-cloud, should "keep an open eye" on the OpenStack user community, Perkins says, adding, "If you feel you want to make a change to the core offering, then you can get involved in that."

Next section: Deploying OpenStack: Use Your Imagination

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