OpenStack, the open source software system, is a private affair for many big organizations today. Telecoms, high-tech companies, universities and, according to OpenStack's own numbers, 50% of Fortune 100 companies use the platform to power their private clouds.
"You can build your own cloud internally in your own data center," said Forrester analyst Lauren Nelson. "That's where OpenStack has been most popular."
OpenStack software runs all computing components -- servers and storage and networking systems -- from a dashboard and can be set up in minutes; the traditional approach calls for ordering up resources piece by piece and can take months.
Telecoms and cloud providers can also use OpenStack to run their own public clouds and then sell services to companies that want vaunted cloud benefits like fast experimentation and the ability to dial up or down computing resources. On top of that they stand to gain from OpenStack's open source standing: Passionate developers worldwide are constantly tweaking the platform, and so are big-name tech companies like IBM, Cisco and Red Hat.
But OpenStack public cloud is far less common -- at least in the U.S., Nelson said. Here public cloud platforms by megavendors Amazon, Microsoft and Google -- built on their own, proprietary platforms -- have dominated the market.
It's a different story abroad. According to research Nelson and her colleagues published in December, 21 public cloud providers outside the U.S. have reported that they've built their services on OpenStack. For example, in Europe there are UKCloud in Britain, T-Systems in Germany and France-based OVH. And in Asia, NTT Communications in Japan offers OpenStack public cloud, and several in China do, including China Mobile and Huawei.
"In the Asia-Pacific region you see a lot more interest in the public side. If you look at the fastest growing region of the world for OpenStack, it's China right now," Nelson said. "Internationally, it's much stronger."
There are a number of reasons for a growing, extra-U.S. market for public cloud providers that run on OpenStack, Nelson said. One is the data privacy laws and policies of individual countries, which may restrict movement of data across borders -- so the U.S. providers become less attractive options.
Another reason is the relatively light presence of U.S. cloud providers abroad. Amazon and Microsoft, for example, have data centers in Europe and Asia, but theirs are not as numerous as ones operated by local providers.
There are also cultural issues that affect workers' roles in organizations, Nelson said. For example, marketing pitches for Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft's Azure cloud platform are designed with U.S. audiences in mind. An important message here is giving software developers the tools they need to do cool things.
That doesn't go over well in some Asian countries, where companies often see developers as number crunchers, Nelson said, and it's not unusual to have 200 report to one manager.
"They do not look to developers to try and break rules or be these innovative employees. It's seen more as 'Here's your task. Go ahead and do it,'" Nelson said. "So [cloud] is more about cost. It's more about the automation efficiency so that they can develop code but not from an empowered, enlightened developer world, which is primarily what the developer tools that AWS and Azure are marketed for in the U.S."
The open source draw
There could be less complicated reasons OpenStack public cloud is catching on in international markets, said Andrew Mitry, lead cloud engineer for retail empire Walmart, which runs all its e-commerce operations on an internal OpenStack implementation.
"At some point everybody has to make a decision: 'Do I want to go the proprietary route, or do I use OpenStack?' There's not really a ton of other ways to build public cloud today."
Constructing a platform from scratch requires hundreds of developers, Mitry said -- so does running and maintaining it. With OpenStack, developers get the written code they need "and it works." They can have all their computing resources up and running quickly and would need relatively few people to manage them.
"I met guys running public cloud in the EU, and their entire engineering team around pubic cloud was like five people."
Mitry is a frequent speaker at the twice-a-year OpenStack Summit and a longtime OpenStack user, having managed the platform at previous employers Comcast and IT services company CSC. He stressed his comments are his, not Walmart's.
Another plus for a provider building on OpenStack is being able to plug into the community of developers and organizations using the platform and sharing some of the work, Mitry said.
"I'm running public cloud, you're running public cloud, we're all running public cloud -- we don't all have to develop this piece of software 10 times over," he said. "I'm just leveraging that shared ecosystem. I think China is starting to get it. I think the EU very much gets it."
A few in the U.S. get it, too. A map on OpenStack's website lists Internap, Rackspace Public Cloud, DreamHost and City Network as providers whose public cloud is built on the open source platform. Mitry said running on OpenStack is a way for providers to differentiate themselves from the big public cloud providers.
But for U.S. companies looking strictly for infrastructure services -- computing resources delivered over the internet -- the provider doesn't really matter, Forrester's Nelson said.
"You just compare availability, uptimes and price -- and versions of which storage varieties that you're looking for -- and then compare. In that case, you don't lose a lot by going to OpenStack," she said.
If, however, an organization is looking for a cloud service as a platform for developers to build custom software, then "the number of services that are available through an AWS or Azure vastly outnumbers any other public cloud player including any of the OpenStack players," Nelson said. "So it's really hard to have a competitive development offering versus those players."
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