Will OpenStack Become A Private And Hybrid Cloud Enabler For Channel?

One of the major decisions faced by channel partners adopting cloud business models involves whether to focus completely on public cloud offerings or to adopt a private cloud strategy that enables customers to hedge their bets through the use of cloud technology within dedicated infrastructure.

The private cloud option is generally considered a much more highly complex and cost-intensive proposition that typically involves the establishment and maintenance of one's own data center. Some experts even claim that without the combination of a highly trained technical team, a high-end financial team and a highly successful sales team, most partners are better off with the public cloud model.

But other experts, as well as a number of channel partners are looking to the OpenStack environment as a means of providing a level of flexibility and cost control that can support greater differentiation in the private cloud environment. These individuals believe that effective use of OpenStack can lead to the development of a solid, and successful, private cloud offering.

[Related: Rackspace Cozies Up To Service Providers For OpenStack Clouds ]

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OpenStack is an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) platform based on free open source software requiring only a license for Apache 2.0. It is managed by the OpenStack Foundation, which was founded nearly three years ago by NASA and Rackspace Hosting, and it has since attracted support from more than 150 companies. Technological elements include compute, storage and networking, as well as a host of applications designed to run on top of the platform, which is administered through its own interface.

"OpenStack is a little bit like a modern operating system," said John Engates, CTO of San Antonio, Texas-based Rackspace Hosting. "It is more complex than a simple operating system, so customers often need help with the installation and deployment. So that's an opportunity for channel partners. Environments include private clouds, service providers, colocation and customer premises."

Engates compares the OpenStack ecosystem with the mobile phone market, which provides rich opportunities for software developers to build solutions that meet specific customer needs.

"There's a strong opportunity for the channel to add value on top of these clouds, whether they are software solutions for the lifecycle of applications or packaged hardware in the environment as a means of addressing the entire stack," he said. "Partners can also use the tools to help customers figure out how to take existing applications and port them to the cloud. Partners who have been nervous about the cloud have a whole new opportunity because the private cloud is also in demand, especially at the enterprise level."

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Rackspace's Engates advises that partners seeking to leverage OpenStack need to have developers on their team who understand the DevOps software development model and can leverage automation in that context in order to avoid repetitive functions such as provisioning servers. He further recommends that partners leverage their trusted advisor status in order to help customers evaluate the new generation of suppliers and build reference architectures around chosen vendors.

"There is definitely opportunity for channel partners in the OpenStack environment," agreed David Hoff, co-founder of Cloud Sherpas, an Atlanta-based cloud service brokerage. "But it hasn't gained full momentum yet. Right now there is so much to be done in terms of building customer awareness that I think a lot of folks in the channel are waiting for the vendors to educate customers. A lot of this is going to come into play when people start taking on the management of hybrid environments. Not everything is going to move to the cloud, but with OpenStack, you can have more confidence that your solution is going to be embraced across multiple data centers."

One such company that is closely tracking developments in the OpenStack community is Stratalux, a Los Angeles-based public cloud and managed services company that currently builds platform-as-a-service (PaaS) solutions designed to run over Amazon Web Services.

"We are not yet using OpenStack, although we are open to revisiting that decision," said Stratalux CEO Jeremy Przygode. "We know that we will need a strategy that enables us to keep customers who want to go back to a hybrid solution or private cloud solution. OpenStack would enable us to deliver a private cloud offering. It seems to be the preferred open-source platform right now, and based upon the vendors that are involved, it fits into our partner ecosystem pretty well."