OpenStack Havana’s stern warning: Provide Differentiated Value or Die

The new OpenStack Havana release sends strong signals to the industry that Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) vendors may suddenly have “irrelevant” stamped on their backs. No matter how elaborate or venerable your existing business may be, proving your value inside the rapidly expanding OpenStack ecosystem is no easy task. This time it is the established PaaS vendors like CloudFoundry and OpenShift who are feeling the heat. A fun guessing game is naming the established players who are next in the stack to get crushed.

Is OpenStack Really just IaaS?

One of the first things Havana has forced us to revisit is the definition of OpenStack as a provider of only Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). Yes, infrastructure still remains a focus, with major strengthening of the role of Neutron (old Quantum), and the addition of major new features in Nova and Cinder demonstrating that infrastructure innovation is as strong as ever. But OpenStack is tracking an innovation curve surprisingly similar to AWS. Remember that AWS started with low-level infrastructure services such as EC2 and S3 but then quickly pushed up the stack with PaaS-level services such as SimpleDB, EMR and SQS. Well, OpenStack is following the platform-service path with Heat, Trove, Savanna and Marconi, just to name a few.

Evolution to PaaS – Statistics

Let us examine the evolution of Heat and Trove, the two leading platform-level services in OpenStack. According to the statistics, 63 engineers from 20 different companies have contributed more than 90,000 lines of to Heat in Havana. This is quite a departure from where the project had started in Grizzly, with RedHat contributing 97% of the code.

We can see a similar picture in Trove, which was started by just two companies in Grizzly (Rackspace and HP). In Havana, the community is much larger, with Mirantis and Red Hat, eBay and SUSE joining in.

Clearly, OpenStack is moving up the stack into the platform-level services and the community is pushing it there.

Why should you care?

This progression is important because it is an early proof point that OpenStack is going to control not just the low-level infrastructure, but also the whole stack above it. The market is clearly asking for it (which is evident by the success of AWS), and OpenStack has the community momentum and the resources to start the wave that will sweep that demand up the stack.

Have you heard of the successful adoption of Cloud Foundry or OpenShift on top of OpenStack? Well, neither have I, and my prediction is that no such adoption is imminent. Too many times we see our customers exploring OpenShift or Cloud Foundry for a while, and then electing instead to use a combination of Heat for orchestration, Trove for the database, LBaaS for elasticity, then glue it all together with scripts and Python code and have a native and supported solution for provisioning their apps. This is a clear indication that at least for those cases, the value provided by the established PaaS solutions is not enough to justify their use inside the OpenStack ecosystem.

This does not imply that every external solution encountered by the OpenStack commoditization wave will die. On the contrary, the ones with enough value-add will thrive, and the OpenStack community will go a long way in order to enable their adoption. One such example in the application infrastructure space is the open source technology called Hadoop. Its community is distinct from that of OpenStack, and its value is indisputable and differentiated enough. Not surprisingly, rather than attempting to replicate and commoditize Hadoop, the OpenStack community is enabling its adoption through project Savanna.

With external PaaS technologies, the value differentiation is not as clear as in the case of Hadoop and in the long run might not be sufficient to survive commoditization. In fact, my personal opinion is that for the PaaS vendors the OpenStack game is over without even starting.

In Icehouse, OpenStack will continue expanding its feature set, as well as breaking new ground in the areas that have not been covered by its original charter. So, what is next? Cloud and datacenter management?

When OpenStack started, Nimbula (RIP), CloudStack, and Eucalyptus were faced with having to answer the scary question of “how are you different from OpenStack?” It appears today the list of vendors that must answer this question is increasing rapidly.

BMC and CA – you have been put on notice!!!

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