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8/9/2012
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eBay Deploys OpenStack Cloud For R&D

One of the first moves by a high-profile online company to build a cloud service on OpenStack.

Online retailer and auction site eBay this week announced that it has been using Nicira's Network Virtualization Platform (NVP) within the OpenStack open source environment to run some of its research and development operations. The move is one of the first by a high-profile company to build a cloud service using OpenStack.

OpenStack has gotten a lot of attention as an open source cloud-computing framework. It was originally developed at NASA, and has attracted support from a number of the tech world's heavy hitters, including IBM, Dell, and Red Hat. Rackspace is using it for its public cloud infrastructure-as-a-service offering.

Nicira's NVP within the OpenStack environment lets eBay spin up hundreds of on-demand virtual networks in which new Web applications can be quickly tested and deployed. This process lets the company reduce or eliminate the time-consuming and error-prone task of manually reconfiguring network hardware. It also means eBay doesn't have to worry about what type of hardware is used. OpenStack and Nicira are agnostic when it comes to gear, functioning just as well with obscure, low-cost products as with hardware manufactured by Cisco, Juniper, and other market leaders. This flexibility, in conjunction with the fact that virtual networks require fewer bare-metal machines than conventional networks, results in both lower infrastructure costs and a more environmentally-friendly pipeline.

"Rapid innovation lies at the heart of eBay's business," JC Martin, eBay's cloud architect, said in a statement. "Working with Nicira we have removed the last big barrier, the network, from creating computing resources on demand. We can now provide these resources in a minute versus hours or days."

"JC Martin ... wants to go fast," Alan Cohen, Nicira's vp of marketing, said in an interview. OpenStack and Nicira lets customers focus on quickly deploying applications rather than rewriting them for various hardware systems or online protocols, he said.

eBay's full-scale production cloud has been live for several months. The announcement provides some momentum to OpenStack, which seeks to become a legitimate competitor to Amazon Web Services (AWS), which currently dominates the market.

eBay's deployment is a "phased rollout. We want to validate the testing before extending its use," Martin told CRN.

eBay showed "a great deal of faith" in choosing OpenStack "before it has been finalized," Lauren Nelson, an analyst with Forrester, said in an interview. OpenStack needs "more fully baked" solutions to compete with Amazon, she said. OpenStack will release a new version called Fulsom in September, and it needs to offer better out-of-box stability and functionality. If it doesn't, OpenStack might "lose the community" that has helped it to develop so quickly, she said.

Lydia Leong, an analyst with Gartner, agreed. "This is not eBay making a major commitment," she said in an interview. "Core stability is an issue," she noted. Leong called OpenStack a "promising" framework for components but is concerned that its developers are "making major decisions right up to the release."

Those developers are one of OpenStack's most noteworthy attributes, according to Cohen. He stresses that it's not just the number of contributors that spurs progress but also the volume of code that those developers are producing. The OpenStack community has allowed the platform to advance even more quickly than the open-source project to which it is most often compared: Linux.

Nevertheless, Leong cautions that, "More people are great, and solving problems is great ... but it would be better if bugs aren't committed in the first place." Problems are inevitable, she conceded, but said she would like to see a development process that emphasizes "avoiding bugs before they happen" instead of correcting them afterward.

While questions remain, other OpenStack projects show promising signs. Virtualization leader VMware recently announced plans to purchase Nicira for $1.26 billion, for example. Rackspace, which co-developed the original version of OpenStack with NASA, has likewise found success. In addition to being the second biggest player in the cloud market, after AWS, the Texas-based company recently announced a 29% increase in revenue, to $319 million.

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