Google App Engine Swings, But OpenStack Is King

Cloud users voted with their feet, made OpenStack topics the most popular sessions at Cloud Connect 2013. Here's what they learned.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

October 24, 2013

4 Min Read

At Cloud Connect 2013 in Chicago this week, sessions and keynotes addressed Amazon Web Services, Eucalyptus Systems, and Apache Cloudstack. Google App Engine was recognized as a leading platform-as-a-service. But attendees, voting with their feet, flocked to the sessions on OpenStack.

Speakers from newly publicized OpenStack implementers Gap, BrightTag and Argonne National Laboratory talked about their experiences with it. Surprisingly, one OpenStack cloud was initiated on a handful of used servers purchased "cheap" off eBay. Another implementer warned that moving to OpenStack is a good idea, but you won't be able to find operations people with any experience with it.

Sessions at Cloud Connect, held in the new conference center next to the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, included: Hype vs. Reality: What Works and What Needs Work in OpenStack; APIs, Architecture and the Realities of Cloud Bursting (OpenStack); and Three OpenStack Case Studies. These sessions appeared to be among the best attended.

A panel Wednesday pitted Mathew Lodge, VMware's VP of cloud services; Jim Anthony, VP of sales engineering for the Verizon Terremark cloud unit; and Monty Taylor, HP's manager of automation and deployment. HP operates an OpenStack cloud, and Taylor is an OpenStack Foundation board member and runs the command line and developer automation for the OpenStack open source project.

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Amid the debates about various cloud architectures and features ran a common thread: Important choices were being made that would reshape IT. Or as IBM's VP of cloud services Ric Telford put it Tuesday, "With cloud computing, there's a tremendous opportunity for IT to remake itself."

Marc Jones, VP of product innovation at IBM's SoftLayer unit, echoed Telford Wednesday, when he described cloud computing as the next phase of IT. He cited the addition of a driver for Docker to OpenStack's Havana release. Docker is an open-source code system that packages an application with its dependencies in a single container, allowing them to be moved around as a unit. "We're saying, the cloud is for real. It's not simple, it's advanced," he said.

Boris Renski, CMO of Mirantis, an OpenStack consulting firm, said clothing retailer Gap re-architected part of its IT operations around OpenStack.

Over the last two years, Gap examined its applications and concluded 70% of them could run on a private cloud implementation of OpenStack, while 30% could remain as is in the Gap's data center running under VMware. Gap made the transition, "making the most of its existing hardware investment," said Renksi.

It made the transition using the Essex version of OpenStack released in spring 2012, which preceded Folsom, Grizzly and the recently released Havana versions. Essex "was still very raw in general," he noted. Working with Gap, Mirantis over four months had to "build a bunch of scripts in Chef to spring up this Frankenstack ... We had to hack on the network to get it to accept Infoblox" traffic. Infoblox is Gap's network management system, he said.

OpenStack at the time also lacked load balancing, a feature that was added in a later release.

During the OpenStack case studies session, Joshua Buss, cloud and server administrator for BrightTag, talked about the cloud-based tag management system that allows companies to tag Web pages once with specialized codes, then use the tags to track and capture data, plus reuse the tags in standard ways on new pages. Tagging might make use of JavaScript objects, cookies or URL parameters to capture data on how site visitors use pages.

BrightTag had been running its development on servers using a version of Debian Linux that Debian would soon stop supporting. He decided BrightTag needed a cloud option to replace them.

Buss said BrightTag considered building an Amazon-compatible cloud using Eucalyptus Systems software but found after it reached a certain scale, "It didn't work out." He considered CloudStack, owned by before that firm was acquired by Citrix Systems, "but CloudStack was chaotic at that time." It has since become an Apache Software Foundation open-source project and has been further developed.

He considered Ganeti, cluster management software created at Google, but it didn't fit BrightTag's needs. Buss said once he settled on OpenStack, he had to "step back from what I was trying to do. It took a month to learn the system" and how its set of components might be implemented to work together, he said.

He established his software developers' cloud on a cluster of servers "that I bought cheap, used, on eBay" and installed Canonical's Ubuntu 12.4 with OpenStack on them. BrightTag development now sits on 15 OpenStack servers running 50 virtual machines.

Scott Devoid, experimental systems specialist at the Argonne National Laboratory, said the lab built an OpenStack cluster of 504 Intel Nehalem servers, which was adopted by bioinformatics researchers working on unraveling various genomes. The biologists wanted to self-provision virtual machines and then have access to real-time visualization of their data through a Web interface. OpenStack allowed all that.

The supporting genomic analysis software at Argonne can "scale up with demand. It's led to a huge increase in our scientific productivity," Devoid noted.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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