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Welcome to the Reality Cloud | @CloudExpo @OpenStack [#Cloud]

Users want clear answers on how OpenStack-based solutions can help with their everyday challenges

I've spent the past few years looking at clouds on the ground and in the air. On the ground, I'm immersed in OpenStack's global innovation and momentum. Doing so involves lots of time in the air, looking at literal clouds as I fly around the world talking with OpenStack developers, community members and users.

Yet most of my conversations don't reside in the clouds. They reside squarely in reality, as users want clear answers on how OpenStack-based solutions can help with their everyday challenges. I'm fortunate to spend my time talking about the critical issues that matter, which often differs from the political, technical and governance issues we read about more frequently.

OpenStack's new users have helped me define three OpenStack characteristics - a reality cloud - that consists of the key elements that users are demanding, implementing and experiencing with the project, today. The OpenStack community will broaden to include additional users as it considers these cloud realities when developing or promoting new technology.

For many IT departments, the open cloud is not an open opportunity to build new services. They're not always able to tear down parts of the infrastructure and install a green field cloud equivalent from scratch. Yet many vendors are selling on the premise that the cloud is a new paradigm that's inherent on changing processes and building something new.

In reality, IT people care about what's going to work within their existing investments. They're concerned about whether they have the technical sophistication to rewrite existing applications, or whether the new applications they've written will operate within their existing on-premise architecture. It's less about starting from scratch, more about transforming the new and existing to work together.

This leads the OpenStack community to care as much about adaptability as it does about new services and new innovations. Once we make OpenStack-based services easier to implement and manage, then we will begin winning over a new type of user - beyond the current open source choir.

There's an ongoing storyline that hosting and running applications off premise involves a cession of control. While that might be the case in terms of dealing with downtime, I've noticed that IT people are leveraging the cloud to transform their role while regaining control and planning for the next big thing.

To understand this concept, I recently spoke with an IT director for a large university. The school had multiple campuses, all running their own forked infrastructure. Students needed to authenticate multiple times in order to access online resources under the disparate system. Realigning the campus services will not only enhance the student experience, it will reduce maintenance resources through centralization and reduction of non-strategic efforts.

In reality, moving to the cloud isn't only about applications and infrastructure. It's also about transforming systems to transition. Embracing the transitioning business will provide a greater audience with technical agility, efficiency and business velocity.

Keeping Up
Winning over a new user base also involves a constituency that may not be as familiar with the fast update cycle of open source releases. When a project like OpenStack generates entirely new capabilities every six months, I've talked with many IT people running the community version that aren't able to keep up. Everyone always wants to be on the cusp of innovation, but in reality, many IT departments cannot spend all of their resources playing catch up.

The community must deal with this reality by encouraging companies to develop their OpenStack strategy before implementation, and then support them with understanding of the community development, support and release models. Keeping up with the community exacts a price and unique support model. Users want new innovations from OpenStack, but the community must assist them in keeping up through each release.

The very definition of cloud can lend itself to the heavenly and intangible. But we are at a stage of OpenStack where we are entering the tangible realities of everyday IT. There are large constituencies that we must win over that understand the value of open source, but are constrained by everyday challenges. We need to work as a community to help overcome these challenges, for the next great phase of OpenStack's growth.

More Stories By Alan Clark

Alan Clark is board chairman of the OpenStack Foundation. He also sits on the board of the Linux Foundation. He works as director of industry initiatives, emerging standards, and open source at Linux operating-system company SUSE.

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