Cloud Computing

China Shoulders the Rise and Rise of OpenStack

Have you ever heard of OpenStack? For those not in the know, it’s an open source project originally conceived to help organisations build their own public, private and hybrid infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) clouds. In three short years since its launch by NASA and US cloud firm Rackspace, it has grown, matured, expanded its scope and become a decent alternative to the industry-leading Amazon Web Services. In many ways, the recent OpenStack Summit in Hong Kong marked a defining moment in its evolution, but also exposed some persistent problems at the heart of the community which will need addressing if it really wants to challenge the AWS behemoth.

Just by virtue of being held in Hong Kong the summit was something of a watershed for OpenStack – the first of its biannual conferences for developers, service providers, vendors and other contributors to be held outside of the US. Why China? Well, as we heard at the event, the city with more OpenStack contributors than any other in the world is Beijing. Shanghai is also in the top 10 global cities and it’s clear that China and Asia in general, from a pure numbers point of view, will be vital to the future success of the project.

Big in China

Large domestic technology firms are already using the open source cloud-building software for pretty major implementations. Qihoo 360, now China’s second most popular browser and search engine, and number one antivirus company, uses OpenStack infrastructure to power about 40% of virtual instances in its 20 datacentres across the People’s Republic. This equates to around 4,000 instances, serving tens of product lines, with the key drivers being greater “agility, scalability and elasticity”.

Elsewhere, YouTube clone uses OpenStack-based cloud infrastructure to power its recommendations and video search engine to reach 360 million unique visitors every month, we heard. Meanwhile, China’s largest travel site Ctrip is using OpenStack to ramp up virtual desktops from 1,000 this year to 13,000 in 2014.

Scale, it seems, is certainly not a problem for the technology. And, given that two-thirds of the summit’s attendees this year were new to the conference, it seems interest in the region is peaking, which is good news for OpenStack’s future. However, tensions exist in the open source community, according to OpenStack Foundation member and Cloudscaling founder Randy Bias.

“The biggest challenge is there’s a disconnect between the user base that want one thing, the   developers who want another thing, and the operators who want a third thing,” he argued.

“Users want interoperability and standardisation – a common reference architecture – but the problem is, the vendors and a lot of developers don’t want that; they want it to be a very pluggable solution.”

The third parties mentioned by Bias, the operators, are also “driving requirements into the developers that don’t necessarily make sense”, like forcing the use of VMware even though “it works like crap with OpenStack”.

Irrelevance and death

Another cause of tension between OpenStack members revolves around how far the open source framework should interoperate with Amazon Web Services, Windows Azure and Google Compute Engine. Bias argued back in July  that OpenStack would face “irrelevance and death” if it failed to do so, prompting some, notably Rackspace’s Robert Scoble, to fire back that this would dilute the community’s attempts to grow and innovate.

Most experts agree that the future of cloud computing for most organisations is a mix-and-match hybrid setup consisting of a private cloud for most workloads, bursting out to a (probably AWS) public cloud when needed, so it would seem wise to engineer that interoperability in now, or at least not actively discourage it. OpenStack stats showed off by Foundation executive director Jonathan Bryce revealed that 60% of deployments so far are in private clouds, with 15% public. So if supporters want the project to grow, it needs to ensure that it can support that hybrid future.

Perhaps such teething troubles are to be expected for a system which has only been around for three years, a timeframe which has seen it grow from 10,000 lines of code to over 1.7 million. In the end, the most important thing for its members, and enterprise customers across the globe, is that it continues to mature and expand its scope beyond core infrastructure as a service, but in a managed way. So said Red Hat consulting engineer Mark McLoughlin, one of the most prolific contributors to OpenStack over the years. During his keynote he enthused over additional elements for 2014 including the TripleO deployment program, Marconi for queuing, PaaS project Solum, and the Trove database-as-a-service element.

“We need to evolve our culture our governance and our processes as needed to handle this expansion,” he argued. “We need to make sure this is a clear and measured expansion with proper scope. We need to prove wrong those who see this expansion as somehow a distraction from our core infrastructure.”

If McLoughlin’s words are heeded and it continues at the same pace, OpenStack will soon be powering clouds across the planet. A more open, more flexible, and highly cost-effective challenger to Amazon? Bezos and co. take note.


John Anderson has been writing about technology and all things Asia for over a decade. From his perch in the Far East he keeps a keen eye on the global significance of emerging trends in the region.


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John Anderson

John Anderson has been writing about technology and all things Asia for over a decade, having started out on some of the UK's best known best-known IT trade titles. From his perch in the Far East he keeps a keen eye on the global significance of emerging trends in the region. 

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