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Live from Boston and the world over: The OpenStack platform

Far from dead, the open source project is alive -- and kicking -- say founders and users at OpenStack Summit Boston. Also in Searchlight: Microsoft goes to computing's edge; Trump signs cybersecurity executive order.

OpenStack is not dead. The message was loud and clear at the OpenStack Summit in Boston this week. In fact, The OpenStack Foundation said the open source software platform has gained new life -- and is poised to do history-making things.

"We've reached the point where all science is essentially computer science," said COO Mark Collier in a keynote address to an audience of developers, architects and IT and business leaders. "It's pretty cool, but it's also a huge responsibility. So we've got to make sure as we work together to build the tools that people in every discipline are now counting on to make breakthroughs for humanity."

Collier was talking about moving, storing and analyzing data from self-driving cars, smart cities and hospitals and labs devising cures for diseases -- all on the nearly seven-year-old OpenStack platform, which is worked on and improved by developers all over the globe. Grandiose, one-world visions, for sure -- and they were tucked into a series of presentations that aimed to show that together OpenStackers, as they're called, are building a solid product that's ever-ready for business.

A lot of it was "defensive marketing" against a recent wave of criticism, said Forrester Research analyst Lauren Nelson. "OpenStack is trying to fight the perception that it's losing its community."

Indeed, some vendors that sell their own distributions of OpenStack cut their developer staffs last year, and one, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, sold its distro off earlier this year.

But HPE is back with a new OpenStack distro, and partners such as Mirantis and Red Hat threw their support behind OpenStack at the summit. So CIOs building cloud computing strategies can count on OpenStack -- often used to build private clouds -- as part of the commercial firmament. Except now, The OpenStack Foundation promises, they'll find a platform known for myriad features and complex setups that's easier to deploy and easier to manage.

Mark Collier, COO of The OpenStack Foundation
Mark Collier, COO of The OpenStack Foundation, speaks during a keynote address at the OpenStack Summit in Boston on Tuesday.

'Good as dead'

The inoculation strategy was evident from the opening bell, when Jonathan Bryce, executive director of The OpenStack Foundation, flashed a 2013 tweet on a screen behind him onstage during the opening address: "OpenStack is as good as dead."

Jonathan Bryce, executive director of The OpenStack Foundation
Jonathan Bryce, executive director of The OpenStack Foundation, speaks during a keynote address at the OpenStack Summit in Boston on Monday.

"People love to make these comments and make these predictions, and they do it year after year after year," Bryce said. "But those are opinions, and what I really like to base my plans and my decisions on are facts and data."

Bryce shared some data from the 2017 OpenStack User Survey, released in April: a 44% year-over-year increase in new deployments. He also showed a chart showing a somewhat even distribution of deployments among companies of different sizes. A long-held criticism was that OpenStack was only for big corporations like PayPal and eBay that could afford a cadre of developer and administrative staffers to cultivate and manage the OpenStack platform, which is available as a free software version.

"It's absolutely for big companies. It's also for medium-sized companies, and it's also for small companies," he said.

Foundation staff discussed ongoing improvements in OpenStack, including projects to reduce "complexity" -- trimming unused features and configuration options. And Bryce pitched a delivery model he called remotely managed private cloud, which is "dedicated to you, but it is delivered as a service."

Gaining ground in the cloud

Patrick Weeks, senior director of technical product management at GE Healthcare, deployed the OpenStack platform -- private cloud was necessary, he said, to ensure security and compliance in a highly regulated industry -- and then set the "impossible goal" of moving 126 on-premises applications to the cloud in the first year.

"Some questioned whether or not we'd be able to reach that. My CTO questioned whether or not we'd be able to reach that even till the very end. 'When pigs fly,' some would say," Weeks said in a presentation. "And they did, they did fly."

GE Healthcare's testimony was "a pretty good counterstrike to the claim about mass migration" to the public cloud, Nelson said, especially after parent company GE's CIO Jim Fowler vowed to move nearly all IT operations to Amazon Web Services and other providers.

Another criticism leveled against OpenStack, Nelson said, is that doesn't play well with other successful open source projects. Plenty of presentations aimed to address that charge. There was one about cloud database CockroachDB -- named so because it "replicates itself and is very hard to kill," said Cockroach Labs CEO Spencer Kimball -- that was run across 15 clouds, represented by 15 operators on laptops. And there was a lot of talk about OpenStack's integration with Kubernetes, which deploys and manages applications packed into virtualization technology known as containers.

Operators from 15 cloud providers get ready to join an OpenStack computing cluster at the OpenStack Summit.
Operators from 15 cloud providers get ready to join an OpenStack computing cluster at the OpenStack Summit in Boston on Tuesday.

Community feedback

The tweaks to OpenStack were good news to Luc Nguyen, business development manager at F5 Networks, which sells technology that handles connections to web applications. His customers use F5 load-balancing and security applications built on an OpenStack private cloud, and they often need help integrating their systems with different vendors. So OpenStack's efforts at simplifying deployment and management are a welcome development, even though customers don't see that far into the system.

"Because it's not just OpenStack," said Nguyen, who works in the Paris office of the Seattle-based company. "Nobody cares about the infrastructure. It's about the applications" that they're running on top of it.

The next step for OpenStack, he said, is to further its reach into more companies, "to get to the real, solid status of being a proper production environment."

Ann Funai, development director of IBM's Power Systems server line, also was heartened by an OpenStack that's "entering a new phase." IBM sells a distro of the platform called PowerVC.

"You're watching as it tries to grow and adopt and say, 'OK we have to go from being a community to something that is enterprise-hardened,'" Funai said. "If this community really is about something, we've got to support products and we've got to have very stable code."

CIO news roundup for week of May 8

SearchCIO was in Boston seeing what's new with the OpenStack platform. Here's what else made the news rounds:

Microsoft talks up edge devices, planet-scale cloud services. The annual Microsoft Build 2017 brought a spate of announcements, including a first look at Azure IoT Edge -- a technology aimed at extending the benefits of cloud computing to edge devices. Here's a briefing from Sam George, partner director at Azure IoT: "When IoT devices start running cloud intelligence locally, we refer to them as "IoT edge" devices. ... Azure IoT Edge enables IoT devices to run cloud services, process data in near real-time, and communicate with sensors and other devices connected to them, even with intermittent cloud connectivity," he wrote in a blog post. The company also unveiled a multi-model database coined Azure Cosmos DB, which will help power "planet-scale" cloud services and applications. "As cloud-based applications increasingly scale, reach global users, and power AI experiences, we have come to a place where we need data at planet scale ... Tapping into Azure Cosmos DB gives them planet scale, so they can keep focused on growing their business," Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of the cloud and enterprise group at Microsoft, touted in a blog post.

Google's VR push. Google is acquiring Austin, Texas, virtual reality game studio Owlchemy Labs, the search giant revealed Wednesday. "Together, we'll be working to create engaging, immersive games and developing new interaction models across many different platforms to continue bringing the best VR experiences to life," Relja Markovic, engineering director of VR and AR at Google, wrote in a blog post. With additional support from Google, Owlchemy will continue to build VR content for platforms like the HTC Vive, Oculus Touch and PlayStation VR, chief executive Alex Schwartz and CTO Devin Reimer wrote in a blog post.

Trump signs cybersecurity executive order. President Donald Trump signed a cybersecurity executive order Thursday, aimed at strengthening the federal government's cybersecurity efforts and protecting the country's critical infrastructure from cyberattacks. The order was originally expected to be signed in January, but was pulled back to allow for more input from federal agencies and consultation with experts. The order directs all heads of federal agencies to adopt cybersecurity policies drafted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and prepare a report within three months explaining how they will implement the framework. The executive order states that federal agency heads will be held accountable for implementing cybersecurity risk management processes and for ensuring that those are "aligned with strategic, operational, and budgetary planning processes." It also calls for cybersecurity workforce development and for working with the private sector to develop better strategies to prevent attacks from botnets.

Assistant editor Mekhala Roy contributed to this week's Searchlight.

Next Steps

The future of OpenStack and Kubernetes at the OpenStack Summit

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Private cloud plan needed for OpenStack benefits

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