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FinTech Journal: Blog Post

OpenStack & the Balance Between Independence & Compatibility | @CloudExpo [#Cloud]

Challenges of avoiding fragmentation an ongoing dilemma

Everyone in the OpenStack community has a vested interested in making it work. Vendors and developers, of course, want to sell products or services, while users want a low-cost, convenient means of provisioning and managing cloud infrastructure.

While some open source endeavors like Linux are able to maintain tight integration among independently developed tools and systems, others fall prey to the "too many cooks in the kitchen" syndrome. That is, without a strong guiding hand, the open source community runs the risk of becoming so fragmented that compatibility and integration suffer.

This is a bigger challenge than most people realize because the line between opens source "customer" and "developer" is very thin. As Gigaom's Paul Miller points out in his latest research report, local configuration changes and code alterations have a way of moving the enterprise installation away from the community release, and the problem is compounded with each new release of the platform. Over time, the initial cost-savings of turning to an open source solution can be eaten up by complex patching and maintenance requirements and the user becomes further isolated from an increasingly fragmented ecosystem.

The OpenStack board of directors is not blind to this reality, however. The group has launched the DefCore Committee designed to foster consistency and interoperability among OpenStack deployments. Probably the most significant change the committee is investigating is the transition from an integrated release model, in which changes coming from the downstream community are formally integrated into the model before being re-released back into the community, to one in which core consistencies are maintained centrally so community developments can be distributed much more dynamically.

Of course, defining that compatibility core is a lot more difficult than it seems. Right now, OpenStack's core components are steadily hardened every six months. This was useful in the early days, but is becoming more challenging as the platform matures and alternative implementations gain in popularity. The solution so far has been to shift code requirements from the cores themselves to the APIs that support them , according to Forrester's James Staten, but with so many developers looking to protect their own code contributions it could be a while before a full API-centric model emerges.

Another idea making the rounds is to have an increasingly layered OpenStack distribution. Open source developer Sean Dague offers a sample layered architecture that would consist of base compute infrastructure at bottom supporting an extended infrastructure layer, optional enhancements and consumption services. This would be a lot less confusing than the current spider-like architecture and would allow developments that are not part of the integrated release to stand or fail according to the value they bring to individual users, not a stamp of approval from the OpenStack Technical Committee.

As with any data platform, open or proprietary, OpenStack lives by the motto: "Evolve of die." But rapid changes and tight upgrade cycles are only part of the evolutionary equation. The other is adapting to its environment so that it may continue to thrive and expand into new habitats.

At the moment, OpenStack is undergoing some pretty deep self-scrutiny - the tech equivalent of a complete psycho-analysis - to determine exactly what it is, how it is to function and how it will embrace the future.  As long as community needs take precedence over individual preferences, OpenStack should come out of this exercise with a sound mind, but it will take everyone's participation to make sure this is the way it shakes out.

More Stories By Glenn Rossman

Glenn Rossman has more than 25 years communications experience working at IBM and Hewlett-Packard, along with startup StorageApps, plus agencies Hill & Knowlton and G&A Communications. His experience includes media relations, industry and financial analyst relations, executive communications, intranet and employee communications, as well as producing sales collateral. In technology, his career includes work in channel partner communications, data storage technologies, server computers, software, PC and UNIX computers, along with specific industry initiatives such as manufacturing, medical, and finance. Before his latest stint in technology, Glenn did business-to-business public relations on behalf of the DuPont Company for its specialty polymers products and with the largest steel companies in North America in an initiative focused on automakers.

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