OpenStack still has an enterprise problem

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After trotting out some impressive enterprise users at its conference in Portland, Oregon, early last year, OpenStack hasn't been able to showcase many additional big names. Supporters tried to address "the debate about the opportunity for OpenStack in the enterprise" at a half-day conference yesterday that was held at the Computer History Museum and webcast.

The speakers ended up highlighting a few of the challenges holding back OpenStack deployments.

Many businesses are looking for the kind of enterprise technology product that they're used to seeing, and that's not what OpenStack looks like yet, said Ken Pepple, CTO and founder of Solinea, a consulting company that helps businesses implement OpenStack clouds. On one end of the spectrum are vendors that are packaging parts of OpenStack and adding support. On the other are tightly packed solutions that go as far as designating what hardware to use. "People want something in between. They want pretty installers and great looking GUIs. They want some management tools around it, things you normally see perhaps in an ERP system," he said.

He expects to see more products that fall into that category towards the end of this year or early next.

Businesses, especially those in non-technical fields, are also struggling to figure out what types of skills to hire for when they want to use OpenStack. "It's much more trouble on the organizational front than on the tech front," said Jonathan Bryce, OpenStack Foundation's executive director. The answer to the question of what kind of skills are required depends on how the cloud is coming into the business, he said. But he's seen the most successful deployments happen when they're lead by strong systems engineers.

In a recent conversation, HP's open source evangelist Marc Atwood told me about a skills gap that vendors are experiencing but that also must impact businesses looking to build their own OpenStack implementations. "It's a hot employment market. You can pretty much move at will to other OpenStack companies," he said of people with Open Stack experience.

The OpenStack Foundation plans to try to make it easier for businesses to find resources they need, including vendors. Bryce said he wants to take the guess work out of figuring out what vendors are offering services and products. He didn't say exactly how but implied that the foundation would host a list.

He also said he wanted to foster more conversations among existing OpenStack users so that they can learn from each other.

This is key and gets to a point that I've been harping on for months. Businesses very much like to know that their peers are adopting a technology. It helps satisfy them that a technology is reliable and has enough momentum that it won't disappear.

Yet OpenStack users tend to be a secretive bunch. While the OpenStack Foundation managed to trot out some impressive, big-name users at its conference early last year, not many others have emerged since. I'm told that some of the case studies profiled at the OpenStack conference in Hong Kong are household names in China. That may be so, but a year after the Portland conference, where are new, substantial users in North America, the birthplace of OpenStack?

"I know I'll sound like a politician, but I have a list of companies I know are using it but they're tagged HP confidential so I can't say," Atwood said.

During yesterday's conference, Pepple made reference to a "top five automotive company" that's using OpenStack.

OpenStack's Bryce mentioned a large retail organization that has "stores all over the place," that's using an OpenStack cloud to tie together their POS systems. He also said he'd had dinner the previous night with "three companies that are some of the biggest brands in the world, all using OpenStack and doing it at pretty large scale."

Too bad none of these companies wants to be named.

It appears though, based on the conversations on stage at the conference yesterday, that learning from peers is only one piece of the puzzle that businesses will need before more of them start using OpenStack.

Read more of Nancy Gohring's "To the Cloud" blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @ngohring and on Google+. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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