OpenStack Gets Its Swagger Back

In a previous article I briefly explored the time-gap between marketing hype around a new technology (in this case Kubernetes) and its actual adoption at scale. Attending the OpenStack Summit in Berlin last week was a great opportunity to time-travel forward in that same type of cycle. OpenStack was all the rage just four years ago but then, as a reaction, became the butt of many a cloud joke. I set out to discover where OpenStack is in late 2018, and what newer technologies and foundations can learn from this story .

The “Four Opens”UDI NACHMANYBoom to bust to…?
OpenStack famously came out of a joint project set up by NASA andRackspaceRAX +0% in 2010, to offer an open-source Cloud platform—focused on compute, network and storage—and counter the early rise of lock-in-focused AWS and Azure. The ecosystem reached peak hype around late 2014, marked by the number of startups and the size of their rounds (and burn rates),the size of the semi-annual summits, the number of vendors coming into the foundation—and their bragging about the number of open source contributions to the project. (Contributions to open source are of course a very good thing when done with the intent of collaboration and problem-solving, but it’s a quality, not quantity, game; this short thread from Jessie Frazelle is a great summary from a developer’s point of view.)By 2016, when Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth talked about the collapse of “The Big Tent”, OpenStack was deep in the trough of disillusionment. Soon enough, startup funding ran dry ( OracleORCL +0.12% and other buyers made some key post-bubble acquired-hires as a result), and major backers like HPE, Cisco and IBMIBM -0.76% started to cut their losses. This was so painful in the Cloud industry that at times it seems that foundations like the CNCF manage themselves according to a secret “don’t do what OpenStack did” rulebook. Leaner, but not meaner

What OpenStack has done extremely well from the beginning, is engage its community of engineers and operators . This tight-knit and committed group, which has gone through the flames of technical issues and human skepticism, seems to have been the key to the project’s current state—more modest, mature, pragmatic and focused on uptime.Consider how OpenStack has managed to generate activity around new projects that address challenges presented by technologies such as Containers, ‘unstructured’ PaaS and Serverless. At the summit, foundation speakers boasted the following: the Kata Containers project allows hardware-level security isolation that can work well with Kubernetes and FaaS; Airship is a collection of tools that automate cloud provisioning; StarlingX leverages the Titanium R5 platform to address distributed edge applications; and Zuul is a CI/CD platform fit for multiple environments. All these tools are, in some respect, designed for infra operations users, and all bridge from OpenStack, which is a sign of pragmatic confidence in the ecosystem’s vitality as well as in its place within wider contexts.

The atmosphere at the show itself seemed more down-to-earth than before too, and as friendly as ever. Exhibitors were mostly managed services providers looking to help enterprises succeed with OSS (no magic-cloud-in-a-box pitch was noticed), swag hunting was a niche activity (i.e., fewer, higher-quality conversations), keynotes focused on advanced production case studies, and at the long list of talks about Cloud, Containers and FaaS, lead-generating badge scanners were nowhere to be seen. Kind of what you’d expect from a proper tech community summit.

It’s not all roses, of course. The opening keynote mentioned 75 public clouds running on OpenStack, but in truth none of those come close to threatening the dominance of the big-three (the biggest OpenStack-based public cloud is probably Rackspace, which is increasingly focused on managed services). Initiatives like the Passport Program are good for making the niche work better together, but they probably won’t move AWS’s needle.

No more Stacks
That said, in a world where everyone wants to talk about functions, containers and the edge, the OpenStack project has done a remarkable job of moving forward and adapting. In my opinion, the two most meaningful moments came when keynotes touched upon the project’s plans in China, and the summit’s name change.

While the US and European markets for OpenStack continue to grow slowly and steadily, much faster growth is attributed to the Chinese market, which has both a massive infrastructure need, and a tendency to be wary of the leading Western vendors. It will be interesting to see how sustainable that growth is for OpenStack, especially if the government publicly endorses the project based on its popularity, openness and local case studies such as TenCent. Luckily, OpenStack’s first summit in China, planned for 2019, will allow us an opportunity to explore that question up close.

It was also announced that the summit will change its name, to the Open Infrastructure Summit. While this recognizes the broad relevance and experience of this ecosystem, it will no doubt bring it into closer orbit with events organized by the likes of Linux Foundation and the CNCF. Whether harmony and symbiosis will ensue, or friction and confusion, remains to be seen. What’s very clear from this summit is that OpenStack has become a bit boring, and that is great news for anyone looking to deploy reliable private cloud infrastructure.

(Originally posted on