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The Future of the Cloud is Open: A Conversation with Mark Baker, Ubuntu Server Product Manager

As we look toward the future of OpenStack and the open cloud of tomorrow, who better to ask and help get educated on the subject besides one of the (if not THE) leading OpenStack distro, Ubuntu.  And so, I grabbed the opportunity to speak with Mark Baker, Ubuntu Server Product Manager.

VMblog:  We're hearing a lot about OpenStack momentum, and big players like VMware and HP are involved now. Why do you think OpenStack is gaining so much traction? Are open clouds gaining more of an allure?

Mark Baker:  Open cloud adoption is accelerating because, in a very short time, OpenStack has enabled a large number of service providers, telcos and enterprises to start deploying clouds, and these organizations have become very vocal about their enthusiasm for the open model. This enthusiasm stems from the high levels of interoperability, flexibility, scale out and cost efficiency afforded by the open source approach to building and running a cloud. These are benefits that users want out of a cloud in the first place, so, it's no surprise that OpenStack has really skyrocketed over the past year.

In open clouds, interoperability is particularly important because it eliminates many of the cost and other entry barriers to cloud adoption. Many organizations can't afford the time or resources to build entirely new, homogeneous infrastructures from scratch and so their alternative to an open cloud is to assemble a hopelessly complex hybrid environment that's destined to cause headaches. This is why even the most traditional of vendors can find OpenStack appealing: it's an easy way for them to build a cloud by leveraging the legacy hardware and software they already have, all while being able to offer their users that same flexibility.

VMblog:  "Open cloud" seems to be a buzzword in the cloud industry these days. What does it take for a cloud technology to be truly open? Is it the technology itself, or the business practices, or both?

Baker:  A common dictionary definition of freedom is "exemption from external control, interference or regulation." Being open source does not guarantee such freedom, and so achieving true "openness" stems from both technology and business practices, for several reasons. Open source software must be a large component of any open cloud, but technical openness is not a guarantee of interoperability; and without interoperability, you don't have a truly open environment. The discrepancy comes in because savvy vendors use open technology like OpenStack while still employing restrictive business practices and contractual terms locking customers into a proprietary ecosystem.

For example, a customer may have existing workloads based on a particular operating system that they wish to move to cloud, but they find that their choice of cloud platform is artificially restricted because the operating system vendor only chooses to support their own implementation of an open cloud. If the customer chooses the vendor's open cloud, they might be further restricted by support agreements that exclude support for some alternate, competitive operating systems or related technologies like storage. Such vendor lock-in can be effective to the detriment of customers.

Truly open clouds require open business practices as well, and that means giving customers the freedom to use the software, platform and hardware of their choice.

VMblog:  What are the main advantages of building a cloud on OpenStack with Ubuntu, and how does Ubuntu help businesses reduce complexity in their cloud environments? 

Baker:  First, it's worth stating that Ubuntu and Canonical have been with OpenStack from the beginning, and we're very dedicated to the platform. Ubuntu was the original reference operating system for OpenStack and Canonical created Launchpad, where OpenStack development is managed. OpenStack and Ubuntu are, therefore, highly integrated, and a natural way to begin building an open cloud.

The alignment of the OpenStack and Ubuntu release cycles means that we are able to deliver the latest OpenStack release as a distribution alongside the latest release of Ubuntu Server. The fast development of OpenStack, especially in areas such as Software Defined Networking (SDN) means that the host platform needs to be able to support some of the latest kernel modules and core technologies. Ubuntu is uniquely placed to be able to do this. Of course people want to be able to take advantage of the latest OpenStack features without having to upgrade their host OS, which is why we also make the latest releases available on the LTS release of Ubuntu Server.

As clouds are deployed, new challenges emerge: chief amongst them is how to scale and manage the environment effectively. Automation is the key to success in cloud which is why we have developed Juju, a service orchestration tool that makes the automation of common tasks extremely simple. Juju can be used to scale and manage the cloud infrastructure, as well as the workloads being deployed into the cloud. Juju also works across many cloud technologies such as AWS, EC2 and HP Cloud.

Ubuntu recognizes that customers have complex heterogeneous environments and need to be able to connect many different pieces of technology to the new open cloud they are deploying. Our close relationship with VMware to integrate ESX/vSphere with OpenStack is a good example of how we are addressing this, and we have other similar projects in the pipeline too.

VMblog:  An obvious cost advantage to open source technology is its free-of-charge software. What are other cost advantages of an open cloud model?

Baker:  Customers initially see cost as being a significant advantage - the capital outlay required to build an open cloud is less when you are not required to pay upfront license costs or subscriptions. However, it is the collaborative development model and the open interfaces that can provide some of the longer term cost savings. For example, many customers spend resources solving infrastructure or connectivity problems. These problems are very often common to a great many people, and an open source model means that they can share solutions and potentially get the optimum solution built as part of the core project, thereby sharing the burden of the development and maintenance across a large number of people. Clearly this isn't appropriate for everything, as companies might not want to share technology that generates competitive advantage for them, but the reality is that many of the problems are of the mundane sort, the solutions to which can be freely shared.

Another major cost advantage of open clouds is the capital expenditure avoided thanks to high interoperability. As mentioned previously, true interoperability means existing infrastructure can be reused, rather than ripped out and abandoned, which can save a fortune. In fact, one of the big advantages of cloud is that you don't have to manage as much physical infrastructure. However, if you buy into the idea that you need to invest in a myriad of new servers and hardware bundled with your cloud software, your infrastructure costs are going to skyrocket anyway. There's a middle ground in developing a highly interoperable cloud environment, which gives you the leg room to utilize legacy solutions while making new investments when necessary.

VMblog:  Some commentary suggests that OpenStack is not yet ready for prime time - do you have any examples of successful OpenStack deployments that are in production? 

Baker:  There are many good examples, including a large number of household names. Prominent telcos like Deutsche Telekom, KT and AT&T are OpenStack users. In the enterprise realm, OpenStack users include Bloomberg, Boeing, Best Buy and HubSpot. These large organizations particularly appreciate the scale out capabilities of OpenStack, which are far greater than traditional cloud vendors can offer. Additionally, there are countless startups employing the open cloud platform because it scales to their unique needs as well, especially as they grow and evolve. Because so many different organizations and partners are involved in OpenStack, it has something to offer to everyone.

VMblog:  From a developer's point of view, why are open source cloud platforms useful? How does that translate into quality production?

Baker:  Developers have always been drawn to open source, and they like being able to see upcoming software iterations in advance, so they're always on the cutting edge of the market. Because open source makes sense to developers at the desktop level, it makes sense to them in the cloud as well. For example, with Ubuntu, being a popular desktop operating system for developers made us a popular cloud platform for developers adopting Amazon Web Services (AWS), or creating Web services, or developing with Hadoop. Our heritage lies in embracing developer users, and that's how Ubuntu adoption picked up rapidly among enterprises and telcos moving to the cloud.

JuJu in particular is a focus for us on getting developers into the cloud. Juju is our DevOps service orchestration tool, and it really shines through in the deployment of complex scale out applications. Developers dealing with scale out in cloud environments need agility, and Juju allows them to scale applications with a single command, and without spending time reconfiguring load balancers, etc. As with other aspects of the cloud, open DevOps environments reduce overall complexity, saving valuable time and resources. Ultimately, the cloud needs to be developer-friendly, because cloud based applications are the direction things are heading in for all industries. We've laid out the future of getting applications to production with an open cloud model that keeps developers "in the loop."


Once again, a special thank you to Mark Baker of Ubuntu for taking time out to speak with VMblog.

Published Tuesday, June 25, 2013 7:22 AM by David Marshall
The Future of the Cloud is Open: A Conversation with Mark Baker, Ubuntu Server Product Manager - Telapprise - (Author's Link) - July 16, 2013 6:38 AM
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