Why OpenStack success depends on simplicity

Martin Cooper is Director of Systems Engineering, International at NetApp SolidFire.


Is it any wonder that OpenStack has become so popular? It accelerates an organisation’s ability to innovate and compete by deploying applications faster and increases IT teams’ operational efficiency, according to the latest OpenStack user survey.

OpenStack is an open-source cloud operating system that enables businesses to manage compute, storage and networking resources via a self-service portal and APIs at massive scale – significantly propelling cloud services forward. And with its growing popularity, the demand for OpenStack expertise is so high, employers are willing to pay top dollar for it and do everything they can to retain talent.

While this is a great thing for those with the expertise, it also hints towards a significant roadblock when it comes to OpenStack implementations. While OpenStack offers tremendous benefits, it is not simple. In fact, implementations are notoriously complex, resulting in skyrocketing demand for skilled specialists.

Removing complexity and focusing on foundations

Despite its complexity, the secret to OpenStack’s success is – perhaps ironically – in taking a simpler approach. For a successful implementation, removing unnecessary complexities is an essential first step.

For instance, you start with the basics by focusing on storage, compute power and infrastructure before adding further features. A solid and simple storage backend translates into a strong foundation.

This approach is opposite to the bolt-on method in which OpenStack features are added to existing architectures. This essentially treats OpenStack as an afterthought, ultimately results in added challenges further down the line and militates against the full potential of OpenStack.

Focusing on fundamental infrastructure considerations may be more resource-intensive and demanding in the beginning than the ‘bolt-on’ approach, but it makes all the difference between an OpenStack platform that organisations could use to its full potential and one that is bloated by unnecessary complexity.

Businesses need to take several considerations and processes into account when implementing OpenStack. After all, it isn’t just a lower-cost alternative to a traditional virtualised environment, it’s a fundamental shift in how applications are deployed, and how infrastructure is used.

For instance, you need to consider how the hardware components come together to drive cloud-focused goals and strategy, which is precisely why the initial focus should be on the underlying infrastructure foundation.


Keep in mind that a virtualised infrastructure is about data centre automation, whereas an OpenStack-powered cloud is about orchestrating the entire data centre. Orchestration builds on data centre automation, so understanding where you currently are in the orchestration process should also inform your approach.

When considering infrastructure components, you also need to think about what specific applications or workloads are driving your project and their individual requirements. This process of due diligence will serve you well; it will ultimately lead to a simpler and easy-to-use cloud.

Once the foundation is in place, this simplicity will translate into easier and cost-effective operations and maintenance, and the ability to easily and quickly customise your environment through APIs. It will also provide a clear path to scale and grow, while avoiding disruptive migrations or the rebalancing of resources.

Transforming infrastructure services

An OpenStack-powered cloud creates a rich platform for building and deploying applications, and it goes hand-in-hand with an automated and software-defined data centre. It manages the infrastructure below and orchestrates applications above, creating fully automated workflows that enable infrastructure to be deployed on demand, and for processes to become consistent and repeatable.

It not only lowers the operational cost of deployments and upgrades, but also provides a flexible platform for offering innovative new services to customers. And when it is combined with other technologies such as big data and virtualised network functions, it not only drives data centre transformation but also changes the very definition of infrastructure services.

That said, an OpenStack deployment can be a significant expenditure which is why deployment and management must be simplified to ensure a successful project and one which truly leverages the full potential of this exciting new technology.

Read more: OpenStack cloud adoption continues to rise but challenges remain

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