OpenStack Community Challenged By Dearth Of Talent, Complexity

The OpenStack community has grown at breakneck pace since the open-source cloud orchestration technology burst on the scene in 2010, a product of NASA and Rackspace Hosting.

As envisioned by its developers, OpenStack provided a welcome alternative to proprietary IaaS solutions and an opportunity for independent service providers to build robust public and hybrid clouds with distributed computing resources that had the functionality and power to compete with the big boys, including industry-dominating Amazon Web Services.

Since then, many brand-name companies have joined the project, from Cisco to Oracle to Red Hat to IBM.

Related: OpenStack Startup Piston Cloud Adds SDN, Remote Support

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But OpenStack, for all its power and portability, isn’t for the faint of heart, Josh McKenty, a former NASA engineer who helped build the platform and sits on the project's board of directors, told CRN.

McKenty, now co-founder and CTO of San Francisco-based Piston Cloud, explained that an effective OpenStack implementation requires contributions from network engineers, system engineers, storage engineers, site-reliability and scale-out engineers.

Developers trying to build and administer private OpenStack clouds for their internal operations are confronting a typical set of challenges associated with the lack of these diverse skillsets.

’It’s really hard to find anyone with that breadth of skill so you really need to find a larger team. That’s really been a challenge for a lot of folks,’ McKenty told CRN.

When McKenty and some of his current Piston Cloud colleagues developed OpenStack, they essentially used it as NASA's private cloud, even before Rackspace adopted it as the workhorse of their public cloud.

"The reason we did it at NASA was we were not allowed to use Amazon. We wanted software-defined infrastructure, and there was nothing else," McKenty said.

But as the software they developed now proliferates, a dearth of talent is challenging solution providers and end users who want to leverage its power.

"OpenStack talent is a rarified discipline," McKenty said, adding, "to be good with OpenStack, you need to be a systems engineer, a great programmer but also really comfortable working with hardware. You need to understand how the infrastructure works under the covers."

Not only are skills at such a premium, but there's also so much overlap in the abilities needed to build an OpenStack cloud and those to operate one that OpenStack customers are almost competing with vendors for talent.

NEXT: Simplifying OpenStack

OpenStack was developed for use in almost any scenario or environment, and the community supporting the project places a premium on the framework being highly configurable, abstract and flexible, all factors contributing to its complexity. Now with OpenStack's ubiquity, many think it's time to simplify.

McKenty and several of his colleagues who were integral in building the platform believe Piston Cloud represents a major step toward reducing some of the expertise currently required. They see their product, Piston OpenStack, opening the platform up to managed services providers and developers by substantially simplifying deployment and management.

"There’s 2,000 people working on OpenStack on the vendor side, and the customers can't compete with HP to hire OpenStack engineers. So they’re relying on us to make OpenStack work for them," McKenty said.

Piston Cloud offers a turnkey installer that handles all 56 separate OpenStack components.

"From a conceptual model, we’ve taken 56 separate installs and made it one install, and we limited the number of choices of configuration options to a subset that we know works," he said.

It’s an enterprise-grade product that should benefit solution providers, McKenty said, since the value for the channel is all above the OpenStack layer.

McKenty envisions a future where every public cloud, except for maybe those run by AWS, Google and Microsoft, is powered by OpenStack. And what those providers have with their proprietary technology, that the OpenStack community will benefit from lacking, is lock-in.

"Service providers like Rackspace, HP, Cisco, IBM, they like OpenStack because it gives them the tools they need. None of those individual companies would be able to build something that could compete with Amazon individually, but see the OpenStack community can do that as a whole," McKenty told CRN.