Mirantis Chairman: OpenStack Creates Unique Opportunities For The Channel

OpenStack is on the vanguard of a revolution that's remaking the IT industry -- the open-source cloud operating system may pose the most serious challenge out there to lock-in software vendors and proprietary clouds.

It's a game-changing technology that also creates unique opportunities for the channel, at least for those solution providers ready to stray from traditional vendor alliances to become more innovative and solution-oriented, Alex Freedland, co-founder and chairman of Mirantis, told attendees of the NexGen Cloud Conference & Expo in a keynote on Friday.

"This is the business model of solution providers of tomorrow," Freedland said.

[Related: Mirantis Opens Latest OpenStack Distribution For Technical Preview]

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Freedland, a serial entrepreneur, might be one of the most passionate evangelists of the OpenStack movement. His company, Mirantis, was born as a solution provider a few years back in Mountain View, Calif., and leveraged engineering talent in his native Russia to bring to market a pure-play OpenStack distribution that now accounts for 14 percent of global deployments.

Solution providers should recognize in OpenStack a technology that frees them from having to declare allegiance to a specific vendor's channel and instead empowers them to integrate diverse software components that enable custom solutions, Freedland told attendees of NexGen, held by The Channel Company, publisher of CRN.

It's that value proposition that is driving OpenStack's exponential growth, he said.

The cloud platform, developed in 2010 through a collaboration between NASA and Rackspace, kept a low profile for a while. Then name-brand behemoths such as Red Hat and Hewlett-Packard recognized its significance and threw their weight behind OpenStack, exposing the technology to a wider audience.

"It's wonderful that the greater world is starting to understand what it is," Freedland, who sits on the OpenStack board, told attendees.

It was a quote he heard a few years back from venture capitalist and Netscape founder Marc Andreessen that inspired Freedland to dedicate his energies to OpenStack.

Andreessen observed that companies such as Facebook and Google would not be economically feasible if they had to buy IT resources the same way the rest of the world did at that time. "The checks to Sun, Oracle, BEA would have been so large, the businesses would have been impossible," Freedland said.

An idea took root in Freedland's mind: The efficiencies in server architecture possible only for companies like Google and Facebook would soon be available to the industry as a whole.

That's proven true, and what's driving those breakthroughs to a large degree is the open-source movement, Freedland said.

It's "a revolution and a transformation and a tectonic shift" similar to what happened in the 1980s with the personal computer, Freedland said.

NEXT: An Open-Source Revolution

In the past decade, the role of open-sourcing has drastically changed.

Years ago, open-source technologies such as MySQL or Firefox were about providing less expensive alternatives to popular software products.

But that's no longer the case. Products such as Hadoop represent totally new technologies, and big companies are getting behind them with custom applications.

Open source has "become the engine for innovation," Freedland said.

OpenStack fits that bill, providing an infrastructure that abstracts compute, storage and networking resources. That creates an alluring economic model by creating standardized, stable, ubiquitous APIs that can be accessed by a large community of vendors.

"The only reason an ecosystem like this can be successful is if it evens the playing field for everyone," Freedland said. "It solves the economic equation necessary to make the industry happen."

That ecosystem now includes some 300 companies backing the project financially and thousands of developers contributing modules that expand functionality.

Putting it simply: "Openstack won," Freedland told NexGen attendees.

OpenStack has established itself as "the fabric that glues together data center infrastructure" by providing flexibility in configuring and integrating underlying components, shifting greater control to the customer, Freedland said.

"This is the game-changer for the industry, and for you as channel people," he added.

Brad Wohlander, CEO of Sentry Global Technologies, a solution provider based in Plano, Texas, took that message to heart.

"We are not very knowledgeable about OpenStack," Wohlander said after hearing Freedland speak. "One of my first orders of business when I get back to the office on Monday, I'm going to send an email to the engineering team saying, 'Who's going to look into OpenStack as a viable alternative for us going forward?' "

Freedland convinced Wohlander that OpenStack will play an important role in the overall movement of the industry to the cloud.

"We need to be more knowledgeable about all the cloud options and OpenStack is one of those," Wohlander told CRN.

Freedland told NexGen attendees that as the IT industry embraces the cloud, technologies such as OpenStack are shrinking the barrier to entry by orders of magnitude, which translates into an industry orders of magnitude larger.

"Cloud is all about taking the margin out of the infrastructure," Freedland said in his keynote.

That allows solution providers to decide which components to add and integrate, set their own price points, and establish margins that keep them profitable and competitive.

It was a message that resonated with Wohlander.

"That's the challenge for every one of us in that room. The idea of combining products from multiple manufacturers and developing it all and setting it up and charging customers and building services was a business model a decade ago, but I'm not sure it's going to be a viable business five years from now," he said.

It’s a poignant question for him to consider. The hardware in Sentry's data center is approaching the end of its warranties, which effectively is the end of life. The company needs to decide whether to place new orders, or just move it all to the cloud.

The NexGen conference has made him reconsider the value proposition of data center vs. cloud, and shifted his thinking toward the latter.

"The flexibility and adaptability of that platform allows you to build highly customized solutions for every client's needs and wants. That’s one of the things that us as solutions providers struggle with," Wohlander said.

"My goodness, there's a whole new warehouse of solutions and parts that I didn't even know existed. I've got to go look around," he said.