OpenStack platform deployments: Not every app is a candidate

In deployments of OpenStack in the enterprise, CIOs need to choose which applications will make the cut. Experts offer advice.

As more IT organizations move to OpenStack platform to help them build and manage their private cloud environments, CIOs and their teams must decide what gets moved to this new platform, and when.

Not all applications will be able to make the move the open source infrastructure-as-a-service platform.

"OpenStack is a great platform for 60% to 80% of the applications that a typical large business is running, but it's not a solution for 100% of them," said John Fruehe, a senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

Cloud-native apps along with e-commerce and web apps -- applications that want to be in an elastic environment where they can scale up and scale down -- tend to be the types of apps that organizations can easily move to the OpenStack platform, experts said. On the other hand, legacy apps and those still running on the mainframe won't likely migrate over any time soon.

Fruehe said some IT leaders might have an all-or-nothing approach to OpenStack adoption. But he and other analysts said CIOs who want to have more effective, efficient private clouds can still make those gains via OpenStack, moving what they can to that environment and leaving others where they are with the knowledge that some applications aren't the best candidates to move to that environment -- at least for now.

With that in mind, several experts noted a few types of applications that don't make good candidates for the OpenStack platform:

OpenStack is a great platform for 60% to 80% of the applications that a typical large business is running, but it's not a solution for 100% of them.
John Fruehesenior analyst, Moor Insights & Strategy
  • Niche software with vendor-specific specifications: "If you have software that's niche, a very vertical application, and you've been running it [for example] on a Red Hat Linux server on specs prescribed by the vendor, the vendor might say, 'I don't know if it will work on OpenStack.' Then you might not want to risk your whole business for a question mark," Fruehe said. He explained that such a scenario doesn't mean that the application won't work in an OpenStack environment; rather, there's the uncertainty of whether it will and, even if it does, a question about the level of support the vendor will then provide to organizations that make the move.
  • Applications that are tightly tied to the hardware. Some applications are built to work on specific hardware or work with chips that have been customized to the workload; others are built with particular programming languages that have a deep understanding of how the hardware platform works, explained Justin Shepherd, a distinguished architect for Rackspace Private Cloud powered by OpenStack. (OpenStack started in 2010 as a joint project of managed cloud provider Rackspace and NASA.) As such, IT departments can't lift these applications from the existing hardware platform. "They know they have to sit down and rewrite them," Shepherd said. He noted that most enterprise IT shops have only a small portion of their application portfolios that meet this description, "but some of those are also most critical to the business."
  • Workloads and back-office apps housed on mainframes. Shepherd said these can be difficult to move to cloud and, thus, OpenStack, which means most IT organizations won't want to pick them as OpenStack test cases or candidates for early moves onto the OpenStack platform. However, as IT leaders build up OpenStack experience and expertise within their ranks, and as more OpenStack technologies come onto the market, even these apps could be candidates to move. "Mainframe is actually supported in OpenStack," said Alan Clark, chairman of the board of the nonprofit OpenStack Foundation (which now manages OpenStack).
  • Applications that are single-transaction critical. These kinds of apps, most notably applications that handle stock market transactions, tend to be time-sensitive and memory synchronization-sensitive, and thus require more control than most organizations want to cede by putting them in an OpenStack environment, said Clark, who is also director of industry initiatives, emerging standards and open source at SUSE.

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