OpenStack, no longer the rebel, scrambles to stay relevant

DENVER —The OpenStack Foundation has made a name for itself with open source virtual machine software that provides the infrastructure layer for clouds. But the group sees the writing on the wall: VMs will eventually be replaced by containers. And both VMs and containers may eventually be replaced by bare metal machines that can run everything, including serverless and other futuristic technologies. Rather than waiting to become obsolete, the OpenStack Foundation is embracing other open source projects and looking to the future.

At the group’s Open Infrastructure Summit in Denver yesterday, Mark Shuttleworth, the CEO of Canonical, said, “This year marks 10 years since the first code that would become OpenStack was written.” And of the OpenStack community he said, “We are no longer the rebel outsiders.”  He said it’s important for open source organizations such as OpenStack to keep adapting. “Nobody asked to replace dueling vendors with dueling open source organizations. What’s the difference between a vendor that only promotes the ideas that are in its best interest and an open source organization that does the same?”

And, the OpenStack Foundation does seem to be making an effort to adapt along with the organizations that use its software.

One of the speakers at yesterday’s keynote was James Penick, the architecture director for Verizon Media. He talked about the company’s large open infrastructure environment that uses OpenStack, among other open source software. He said that prior to OpenStack, Verizon Media built its own infrastructure software for its data centers. And that was good for a while because in the short-term the company got a higher return on investment. “But in the long run you will lose out to open infrastructure every single time,” said Penick.

The company’s IT leaders had to force themselves out of a rut and make the effort to move away from custom infrastructure and use OpenStack. “If you thought moving over 20 years of infrastructure to open source was easy, it was not,” he said. Now, his group is transitioning to bare metal servers. “We started out with OpenStack, but then we realized we were dodging the biggest problem,” he said. “We needed to focus on the thing that runs your infrastructure: bare metal. It ain’t easy, but it’s necessary.”

Bare Metal

Bare metal servers are servers that don’t come with a particular operating system pre-loaded.

Penick said the Verizon Media IT leaders changed their business parameters from bare metal as an option, to bare metal as the default, to bare metal as mandatory. On top of the bare metal, they run VMs, Kubernetes, and containers.

OpenStack noted the interest in bare metal a couple of years ago and responded with a sub-project dubbed Ironic, which is used for provisioning workloads onto bare metal servers. This week, the OpenStack Foundation announced that its Ironic software is now managing millions of cores of compute all over the world, turning bare metal into automated infrastructure ready for a mix of virtualized and containerized workloads.

At a press event yesterday, some speakers said VMs, containers and bare metal will all have a role to play for a number of years. The most important thing is to have stable workloads. Containers can be spun up quickly, but VMs are more secure and stable, at least for now.

Chris Hoge, the senior strategic program manager for the OpenStack Foundation said, “If you’re running a web service with a storefront, bare metal doesn’t make a lot of sense. It takes time in provisioning that. But if you’re running a heavy machine-learning application, that extra 1-3% you get out of bare metal makes more sense. What is the best thing you can run for your application workload?”


Aside from discussions about bare metal, OpenStack attendees at this week’s summit also discussed the popularity of containers and Kubernetes. Some contend that these technologies will eventually make VMs, and hence OpenStack, obsolete. But Jonathan Bryce, executive director with the OpenStack Foundation, said, “We don’t look at Kubernetes as something we want to replace. We want to make OpenStack a really great target for Kubernetes.”

There is cross-over work between OpenStack and Kubernetes to standardize how Kubernetes talks on its underlying infrastructure, whether it’s AWS, Google, or OpenStack. However, the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, which hosts Kubernetes, apparently sees itself as a competitor to the OpenStack Foundation. Dan Kohn, the executive director of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, indicated in an interview with TechCrunch that “people should be running Kubernetes on bare metal and that he considered OpenStack to be an unnecessary “middle layer.”

The OpenStack Foundation, as much as it’s struggling to work with other open source projects, may find itself competing with some of them, whether it wants to or not.