Learn firsthand about OpenStack, its challenges and opportunities, market adoption and Cisco’s engagement in the community. My goal is to interview all 24 members of the OpenStack board, and I will post these talks sequentially at Dell TechCenter. In order to make these interviews easier to read, I structured them into my (subjectively) most important takeaways. Enjoy reading!

#1 Takeaway: OpenStack might turn into a multi-billion dollar ecosystem

Rafael: OpenStack claims to be an alternative to Amazon’s public cloud and VMware’s private cloud offering. Both are multi-billion dollar businesses whereas the vast majority of OpenStack related projects are still in a proof of concept phase. How is OpenStack going to catch up?

Lew:  I think that’s simply a matter of time and maturation. I am very bullish and believe we will start to see the emergence of a multi-billion dollar ecosystem of companies that are building, deploying, servicing, supporting and running services on top of OpenStack. The IT industry has recognized that we will advance cloud computing much further and much more rapidly by working together on an open source cloud platform such as OpenStack.  And it is clear this is sorely needed in the market.

#2 Takeaway: It’s all about simultaneously driving both innovation and improvements for  production deployments of OpenStack

Rafael: What are the challenges ahead of the OpenStack community?

Lew:  The main challenges that I see are in keeping the technical excellence and innovation in the forefront while maturing as a production ready system. Commercial software companies do a very good job at productization, QA, and technical support so that their customers may bring their products into production. I think we are already seeing the OpenStack community take on some of these issues:  how do you easily install it, how do you easily operate and manage OpenStack as a running system?

#3 Takeaway: Walk your talk – Cisco is using OpenStack internally in various ways

Rafael:  What is Cisco's experience with OpenStack and how are you guys utilising OpenStack?

Lew: OpenStack is being used internally in a number of different areas. At WebEx, we are running OpenStack in production at several of our data centers as the platform for rolling out  new applications and services.  Our OpenStack engineering team therefore works very closely with the WebEx operations team since I sincerely believe it’s almost impossible to develop good software without running it yourself in production.  There are additional efforts within our IT organisation to roll out an internal OpenStack cloud for use by our engineers for software development, testing, and simulation.

In terms of Cisco’s code contributions to OpenStack,  given our area of expertise in networking, we are particularly focused on enhancing OpenStack’s Quantum network service to meet a broader range of advanced network centric applications.

This effort has led us to work with several of our leading service provider customers on their OpenStack deployment. It’s been rewarding to see the great interest in OpenStack by many leading service providers as they start to plan out their next generation systems, recognizing that cloud platforms are going to be the way they want to roll out their new services.

I think there is now widespread agreement upon in the industry that cloud computing has clearly proven to be the fastest way to develop and deploy applications. Your basic IaaS is a very powerful concept – the application development team doesn’t have to worry about the underlying infrastructure when they’re building or deploying an application.  Some of the service providers we are working with are therefore deploying OpenStack across their data centers not to become public cloud providers but rather to deliver their core services to customers.

#4 Takeaway: OpenStack is moving towards enterprise ready cloud – with Firewalls as a Service, Load Balancing as a Service …

An interesting OpenStack use case is to allow IT to develop and deploy traditional network functions as services integrated into OpenStack.  Think of  Firewall as a Service, Load Balancing as a Service, Monitoring as a Service, Security as a Service …and have the same kind of elasticity that you have in traditional web applications.  In the community we’re already making progress in this area.  This is further enabled in large part by another trend in networking: software defined networking. SDN APIs, operating at the level just below OpenStack Quantum  provide greater control over provisioning, allocation of resources, and retrieval of system information so these systems can be dynamically and elastically scaled through software.  SDN and OpenStack working at different layers but in concert with each other, provide much more capabilities than we actually envisioned earlier on in cloud computing.

#5 Takeaway: OpenStack is transitioning from hype to providing real value

Rafael: What is your view on OpenStack adoption?  Do you see any patterns in the way OpenStack is being adopted?

Lew: One of the things I learned at Sun Microsystems was that you need to be careful about the so-called hype cycle.  People initially thought of Java as well, … the next cure for cancer (laughs).  When that didn’t happen, they said Java was dead. Although the hype cycle may take off very, very quickly, you need to let it settle down, before people start to see the real value in a technology.  In the case of the Java platform, despite it’s enormous early overhyping, it nonetheless has become so widespread in the data center that today it’s considered legacy. With OpenStack we are already seeing the hype subsiding and a realistic view taking hold.  Many organizations are now asking the practical questions: “How does OpenStack apply to my situation? Should OpenStack be the foundational piece of my next generation data center strategy?”  People are running pilots and doing their own evaluations.

Related to this, Geoffrey Moore has been talking about an expected shift in IT from “systems of record” to “systems of engagement.” Systems of record are what we traditionally think of as being handled by IT:  ERP, financial, and HR transactional systems, e.g. traditional kind of business systems. These are fairly static, since you don’t often need to double your employee base or change the fundamentals of accounting over night. Systems of engagement, however, are partner, customer, or supplier facing systems. You have many more customers, partners, or suppliers than you have employees. These systems need to be much more dynamic in how they respond to changing needs, they might be seasonal and they need to be able to adapt much more quickly to changes in the marketplace.  Systems of engagements therefore are ideally suited for deployment on a cloud platform with it’s elasticity, rapid deployment, and self-service capabilities.

These characteristics line up very well with the kind of a cloud platform that OpenStack represents. As businesses start considering how they are going to engage more directly with their customers, start running big data and analytics to learn a lot more about their customers from their interactions with them,  a virtuous cycle is created between customer awareness, big data analytics and cloud computing.  OpenStack may therefore take on a central role in these future systems of engagement.

#6 Takeaway: Hardware manufacturers are responding to a need for programmatic control over infrastructure by opening up their interfaces

Rafael:  How do you think will OpenStack and cloud in general influence hardware providers?

Lew:  There is a need for more and better programmatic control over infrastructure. I think hardware manufacturers are responding by opening up interfaces. At Cisco we are making all of our interfaces open, so that these can be addressed by software.

I sometimes get asked: “Well then, isn’t cloud computing going to commoditize infrastructure?” I don’t think so. There’s always this synergistic relationship between hardware and software, and with a service like OpenStack Quantum, we now have a way for applications to make requests of the underlying infrastructure, which is then most easily accomplished when the infrastructure exposes software API’s. Applications and infrastructure working together deliver the best user experience.

#7 Takeaway: Application developers are welcome as participants – in order to better understand their needs and build those into OpenStack

Rafael:  Are there any contributors that you are missing in the OpenStack community?

Lew:  I think what we're looking for particularly in this next year is to expand the OpenStack ecosystem to attract new software application and tools companies to build on top of the OpenStack platform.   While they may not be direct contributors to the platform itself, it is critically important that we can understand their requirements. So I think you’ll start to see concerted efforts being made to reach out to the application developer community to attract a growing set of apps and services running on top of OpenStack. In the end, it’s always the Apps that matter.

Rafael: Thank you very much, Lew.

Lew: You’re welcome.