Comcast, Best Buy take the wraps off OpenStack implementations

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Both Comcast and Best Buy talked details of their OpenStack implementations during the OpenStack Summit in Portland on Tuesday. The companies, along with other big names presenting here like PayPal and Samsung, represent notable wins for OpenStack.

Comcast revealed that its X1, an upgraded interface that its cable TV users access to search for and record shows, runs on OpenStack.

The offeriing wouldn’t be possible in the old model where all the intelligence lived in the set top box, which Comcast had very limited control over, said Mark Muehl, senior vice president of product engineering at Comcast.

Now “all the communications we send back and forth from the set top box to the network is going through our OpenStack production cloud,” Muehl said.

Muehl demonstrated the service, which users access just by starting to type on the remote control. Hitting keys that spelled out “Serenity” surfaced a list of possible related terms.

“Every keystroke goes into the cloud where we analyze it and search. We figure out if you’re searching for a channel, a call sign for a network, or a movie or an actor, and we propose results,” he said.

Choosing the movie Serenity pops up a page with information about it, including its Rotten Tomatoes rating. Users can rent it on demand from there, watch the trailer, or share it on Facebook or Twitter.

“In the old model where you have the intelligence on the set top box, it would be impossible to load this kind of data onto the limited memory on the set top box,” he said.

Best Buy also offered details of the internal cloud it built last year on OpenStack that now speeds up the ecommerce site and allows faster development cycles, executives said.

Bestbuy.com is really the poster child for organizations that can benefit from the cloud. Around Thanksgiving, when the shopping season starts, the site sees a spike of eight times its normal traffic, said Joel Crabb, chief architect of Bestbuy.com.

“If that doesn’t scream out for elastic scaling, I don’t know what does,” he said. The company started building out its OpenStack cloud last year and by last Thanksgiving ran 25 percent of its traffic on the cloud. The OpenStack Summit is the first time the company revealed it is using a cloud architecture.

Best Buy now serves web pages in 2.5 seconds compared to the seven to 30 seconds previously, Crabb said. That’s because it is now serving the entire page off the servers rather than rendering much of the page in Javascript on the client side.

Using the cloud service dramatically cut costs for Best Buy. Previously, major releases of the web site might cost the company $500,000, said Steve Eastham, director of eBusiness Architecture for Best Buy. Its vendors were charging it $20,000 to provision a single managed VM, he said.

With OpenStack, the company is spending around $91,000 per rack. “That’s a big difference from $20,000 per VM,” he said. Its first rack has 12 servers at 24 cores and second has 12 servers at 32 cores, he said. “We think we can sustain in the low thousands of VMs,” he said. Right now it is sustaining in the mid hundreds with higher bursts.

It has about 40 TB of online storage, including redundancy with block storage, he said.

Best Buy doesn’t know exactly how much its new cloud is saving it mostly because it was so hard to track spending previously. Individual developers were spinning up their own test clouds on public services and paying for them with corporate cards, Eastham said. “This has been a way of getting away from that. What we’re trying to do is get standard here and reduce that,” he said.

Even though Best Buy didn’t have an exact figure for what it was spending, Crabb knew one thing: “It was high enough that the executives were getting mad,” he said.

Eastham said the new cloud is speeding up the development cycle and driving a change of culture. “We want to remove the blame game,” he said. Some teams complain that they can’t release projects because the development environment isn’t good enough. Now, Best Buy has a self service world where teams can take entire projects upon themselves, he said.

Bestbuy.com built the cloud for itself and hasn’t done a lot of talking about it internally, but teams from around the company are starting to ask if they can use it. “If anyone wants to use it, we allow them to,” Crabb said.

Within a couple of months of launching, the cloud was being used by 30 or 40 tenants, Carbb said.

In the future, Best Buy expects to look into hardware options like Open Compute and HP Moonshot for their potential to cut costs. It also plans to add a second instance of its OpenStack cloud and boost networking. It’s running the older Essex version of OpenStack and expects to skip Folsom and possibly jump straight to Grizzly, the most recently released version.

Both businesses represent important customer wins for OpenStack. News of implementations of the open source software recently seems to have been around service providers, with some people questioning how ready it is for enterprise use.

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

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