OpenStack Deployment Tool Goes Open Source

Mirantis Fuel may prove a game changer by accelerating launch pace of OpenStack private clouds inside enterprises.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

March 22, 2013

6 Min Read

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OpenStack is the open source success story of the contemporary era, a project that started as a gleam in the eye of Rackspace executives who wanted to compete with Amazon, and rapidly grew into a project with its own governing board and foundation.

It consists today of six distinct parts, all of them making progress on the problems that confront their individual areas of cloud computing. It's been criticized for lacking the beneficent dictator who, it used to be believed, was a necessary force behind a successful open source project. That was before the procedures of an open source development process -- and the ability to govern those seemingly chaotic procedures -- were well understood. The Apache Software Foundation and Linux kernel development process supplied the models.

Even so, there are now so many contributors and so much activity behind OpenStack, not to mention $10 million in funding under its new organizational structure, that many observers believe it will be impossible for any single individual or software vendor to keep up. And therein sits the problem.

Imagine an IT manager who wants his production software to be a fixed, immutable thing until he decides to apply specific changes -- in a controlled way. He's considering OpenStack as the basis for his internal cloud infrastructure and, as he deliberates, he notices how the parts move slightly, shift out of focus, change color and take on new forms -- even as he looks. It's not the stable infrastructure he was thinking of, but more of a giant kaleidoscope. If OpenStack is his choice, he'll need another staff to keep up.

[ Learn why IBM's embrace of OpenStack is both more and less significant than it appears. See IBM OpenStack Adoption Ushers In New Cloud Era. ]

That's one of the chief barriers to OpenStack adoption by IT staffs today. It's a work in progress, an impressive work, but the amount of motion inside the project is also impressive and threatens to increase the workload of an OpenStack adopter.

"You need to automate the deployment process. Otherwise, you'll have to do it with manual labor. It's not just OpenStack but all the other pieces of software that are key to making it work," says Boris Renski, co-founder and executive VP of Mirantis, one of the few OpenStack consulting firms, in an interview.

Mirantis has assembled a library of OpenStack components, which it periodically updates, tests for compatibility and deploys as a set in its consulting engagements. The library is named Fuel, and Mirantis announced Monday that Fuel is being made available as open source code under an Apache 2.0 license.

"It's in our DNA to make it open source," said Renski. Mirantis is an active contributor to the OpenStack project and its consultants have cut their teeth on working with open source code on many engagements.

Fuel is not a Mirantis distribution of OpenStack, like Suse's Linux or Red Hat's Linux or Canonical's Ubuntu OpenStack distributions. Rather, it's a set of components tested to work with all the mainstream distributions and get a new OpenStack user up and running in a fraction of the time it might take otherwise. It will handle configuration management using cookbooks that outline compatible code combinations. Once selected, Cobbler or Python scripts will automatically assemble the open source packages in the right configuration and sequence.

As far as Renski is concerned, Fuel "is the secret sauce of what we're doing here, building production-grade, OpenStack deployments." The release of his firm's "secret sauce" is being done to make the world more aware of Mirantis' skills and increase the uptake of OpenStack. If Mirantis expands the market with its move, chances are at least some of the new implementers will be contacting it for consulting services, especially if they've been satisfied with the assistance they got from Fuel.

It's not that new OpenStack users can't build their own clouds without Mirantis. But to build "really robust clouds," ones that are not fragile or likely to fail when something internal changes, takes the three years of experience that Mirantis has already acquired, Renski claimed.

A current user is PayPal, which is building out a private cloud as its future, strategic IT infrastructure inside of eBay. It's leveraging Fuel "to help transform our global infrastructure into an agile and open cloud platform," said Saran Mandair, senior director of platform engineering and operations at PayPal, in an email response to an inquiry. The library "has dramatically accelerated our OpenStack deployment," he added, without specifying what the length of deployment might have been without Fuel. OpenStack will drive about 9,000 servers for PayPal.

Mirantis consultants seek to train a customer's engineers in the use of the OpenStack through Fuel, which helps "dramatically compress the effort to build OpenStack infrastructure," Renski said. If Fuel powers more installations and eases their deployment, then OpenStack will come that much closer to becoming a de facto standard for private clouds, a development that will not hurt Mirantis prospects.

Mirantis is keeping Fuel neutral on the type of OpenStack cloud that it's being used to create. Piston, an OpenStack-based firm, has its own "very opinionated distribution of OpenStack" that relies on a memory device loaded with Piston that's plugged into the switch at the top of the server rack. In effect, it's a version of OpenStack that's been condensed into a quick-to-deploy version, and Mirantis stopped short of making Fuel able to deploy such versions. If a customer chooses one, that's fine, but Fuel was to remain as an arbitrator of more general purpose and mainstream deployments.

In addition, Mirantis constantly updates and adds to Fuel's capabilities, and it will be sharing those changes on a monthly basis, a rapid release pace by Linux distribution standards.

For OpenStack adopters that decide to use Fuel, that means they will be dependent on Mirantis' continued updates and its willingness to continue to make them open source -- its avowed intent. Alternatives exist, such as Juju or Chef, if for some reason Mirantis departed the scene. But for now, Mirantis is trying to change the nature of the game, accelerate the OpenStack adoption rate, and become a contender as the best candidate for enterprise private cloud infrastructure.

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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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