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OpenStack features, services creating industry buzz

OpenStack features, including portability, security and storage are prompting vendors and IT pros alike to support the open source cloud platform.

Open source cloud computing is a hot commodity in IT, and gives enterprises the ability to customize tools and services for free. When it comes to open source cloud, many big-name vendors have thrown their support behind OpenStack. The rapidly evolving open source cloud platform challenges others to keep up, but that very dynamism ties in with the evolution of the cloud concept.

OpenStack provides the orchestration needed to virtualize servers, storage and networking. Its code runs on standard, low-cost consumer off-the-shelf hardware and its supporters -- including Intel, AMD, Citrix, Cisco, Red Hat, Canonical, HP and IBM -- are adding strong innovations to the code pool.

But what has all of these companies excited about the open source cloud platform? Here are a few OpenStack features that especially stand out.

Compatibility and portability. Aside from its open source nature, OpenStack has a number of advantages for cloud users. For starters, OpenStack is agile and easy to deploy; it supports both private and public clouds, but often companies choose it to build the former. OpenStack APIs are compatible with Amazon Web Services, so users don't need to rewrite applications for AWS. This compatibility also allows applications and storage to transit between private clouds and public cloud providers.

Security. One of the biggest roadblocks for cloud adoption -- no matter the service provider -- remains security concerns. To calm those companies' worries, OpenStack's robust security system supports multiple forms of identification.

Management and visibility. The open source cloud's Horizon dashboard gives administrators an overview of their cloud environment -- including resources and instance pools.

Cloud storage. OpenStack offers unlimited storage pools and supports block-IO from a variety of vendors, as well as object file storage. Its built-in storage management automatically recovers failed drives or nodes. Replication and erasure coding with Ceph provides strong data integrity. To avoid the effects of drive failures, users can take advantage of pre-emptive drive checking. Additionally, OpenStack's scaling capabilities enable users to add servers and storage elastically.

As the need to tackle big data in the cloud rises, OpenStack's flexibility is an added bonus. Users can run Hadoop apps and Web pages for big data analytics, media files and standard block-IO.

Quality control. Because its code base is evolving, OpenStack's release process is broken down into blocks -- roughly four to six months apart. This ensures quality control and release stabilization. The current stable release is Icehouse, but a recent Juno release is a likely replacement.

Piecing together the OpenStack services puzzle

Similar to a complex puzzle, OpenStack has a number of modular pieces that fit together. Each module evolves independently and OpenStack permits the community to add new code modules, as needed. Originally, OpenStack offered Nova for compute, Glance for images and Swift for object storage. However, Swift has been replaced by Ceph -- an outside open source unified storage stack -- to a great extent. Today, the list of OpenStack services has changed and expanded.

  • Nova: Used for compute orchestration, Nova works with hypervisors to create and manage resource pools.
  • Swift: Scalable storage system used for object storage.
  • Glance: Manages stored images, and can store and catalog an unlimited numbers of backups.
  • Cinder: Block-IO storage service that stores data for guest virtual machines (VMs).
  • Neutron: Networking as a service provides self-service networking capability for users.
  • Horizon: A dashboard with a graphical interface.
  • Keystone: Security module with lightweight directory access protocol integration provides authentication for all OpenStack services.
  • Ceilometer: Telemetry module used for billing systems; has easily extensible counters.
  • Heat: Orchestration services for multiple composite cloud applications.
  • Trove: Database as-a-service that provisions relational and big data database engines.
  • Sahara: Managed resource data processor uses Elastic MapReduce for Hadoop provisioning.
  • Zaqar: Multi-tenant cloud messenger allows message-passing between apps.
  • Ironic: Bare-metal provisioning option used as an alternative to virtual machines.
  • Kilo: New module set to release in 2015; will include Manila for shared file systems, Designate for DNS as-a-service and Barbican for encryption and key management.

OpenStack's ability to spawn a new project or use alternatives is a positive aspect for the coding structure and the way the project is managed. OpenStack isn’t monolithic and rigid, so it can adapt to changing conditions quickly -- which explains its growing support from large cloud vendors.

About the author:
Jim O'Reilly was Vice President of Engineering at Germane Systems, where he created ruggedized servers and storage for the US submarine fleet. He has also held senior management positions at SGI/Rackable and Verari; was CEO at startups Scalant and CDS; headed operations at PC Brand and Metalithic; and led major divisions of Memorex-Telex and NCR, where his team developed the first SCSI ASIC, now in the Smithsonian. Jim is currently a consultant focused on storage and cloud computing.

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