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Why IT Is Struggling To Build Private Clouds

Think private clouds offer all the flexibility and none of the risk? IT is missing out if it doesn’t prepare for public cloud use.

The OpenStack Option

Open source code projects are generating a lot of energy and innovation in the private cloud software arena these days. In particular, OpenStack, a project that started with Rackspace and NASA in July 2010, offers a way for companies to build a private cloud that promises to be compatible with a variety of public clouds. Hewlett-Packard and Rackspace already have public OpenStack clouds in operation, and IBM promises to bring its SmartCloud and its cloud consulting services into line. FedEx has used some proprietary systems to get its private cloud started, but soon "we will be OpenStack compliant," says Humphries.

OpenStack provides for virtual machine provisioning and management, much as Microsoft and VMware do, but its primary hypervisor is open source KVM. OpenStack backer IBM has taken to publicizing what it sees as the efficiencies of KVM over VMware's ESX Server hypervisor, something that only KVM's owner, Red Hat, had done before. Thus, this fast-growing, open source private cloud initiative strikes at the heart of VMware's product empire.

OpenStack supplies an end user portal for self-provisioning, and virtual machines use tracking to provide chargeback statements. It allows for load balancing and the automated spinning up of more servers to meet demand, if policies dictate an increased service level.

OpenStack has its critics, including those who say it's really a set of projects and not a single, enterprise-friendly product. Companies that download OpenStack's six major service modules must do a lot to get them working together. Several companies, including Canonical, Cloudscaling, Mirantis, Nebula, Nimbula, Piston, Red Hat and SUSE, provide services around OpenStack.

chart: What Are Your Top Cloud Service Concerns?
OpenStack can't match Microsoft in Hyper-V virtual machine management; it can't beat VMware at generating and live migrating ESX Server VMs. But OpenStack promises to handle KVM as well as ESX Server and Hyper-V workloads, providing multiple cloud options.

Perhaps most interesting -- to open source newcomers and established vendors -- is OpenStack's network virtualization and software-defined networking project, called Quantum. VMware, Juniper and Cisco have joined the Quantum project in part because contributing to it lets them influence and understand where the technology is headed. Networking is the last function in the data center to be virtualized, and all private cloud system producers are intensely focused on it.

No Time For Open Source Purists

OpenStack is advancing quickly. It's on its seventh release in less than three years, but it's not a universal standard. HP OpenStack differs from Rackspace OpenStack in some implementation details; Rackspace is different from Ubuntu OpenStack, which is different from Red Hat OpenStack.

The goal of the initial OpenStack project was to let a thousand private and public clouds bloom, instead of having just a few giant public cloud providers such as Amazon and Google. The hope was that all these providers would be based on one core set of cloud software and would be interoperable. The OpenStack Foundation remains committed to that goal, but OpenStack has so many open-ended options that early implementers have had to make compromises that limit interoperability.

HP and Rackspace, both early OpenStack cloud builders, have been criticized for implementing the software in ways that are unique to their operations. Nebula, the startup former NASA CIO Chris Kemp founded, offers OpenStack as a configured hardware appliance to be plugged into a server rack; Piston offers it configured in a different way on a memory stick that loads into a top-of-rack switch. Red Hat, SUSE and Ubuntu offer it as part of a Linux distribution, using different OpenStack releases and different tweaks to those releases.

In "hustling to release a full suite of open cloud products built on OpenStack," director of cloud compute engineering Troy Toman says in a blog post, Rackspace "...created some implementation specifics that were out of sync with common practices in other OpenStack implementations."

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