Open Source and OpenStack: Complexity and lack of knowledge raise risks

Open source solutions offer a cost advantage with their free licenses or low license costs. However, there are costs associated with these solutions that should not be neglected. On the one hand, specialized knowledge is necessary to build and develop open source cloud infrastructure. On the other hand, administrators have to ensure proper infrastructure operations, for which task extensive skills regarding solution administration and maintenance are requisite. In most cases, these skills are acquired via external expert knowledge such as advisory or developer resources.

Furthermore, users who decide to build their cloud on pure open source software, are limited to the support dependency of the open source project. This could be tough and painful, since support is generally provided by forums, chats, Q&A systems and bug tracking systems. In addition, it is well received when users are actively participating and playing a part in contributing to the project, a behavior generally not needed in the commercial world of software. Luckily, commercial-oriented vendors of open source cloud software have already identified the service gap and provide support through professional services, as part of special license plans for enterprises.

Despite a high level of flexibility and openness as well as a decrease in license costs, it is inherently important to understand that OpenStack is not just a piece of software. Instead, the open source cloud management solution is based on a collection of specific components, among others, for compute (Nova), storage (Swift, Cinder) and networking (Neutron) capabilities, which must be tightly integrated to build a complete and powerful OpenStack based cloud environment. The whole project takes in new functionalities with each release. In addition, a community of developers and vendors participates with further add-ons and source code for maintenance purposes and other improvements. Therefore, the use of OpenStack can lead to unpredictable complexity and overall risk increases.

IT organizations who attempt to deal with this complexity on their own by integrating all components from scratch and being up-to-date at all times, tend to expose themselves to the risk of creating their own, unmanageable cloud solution instead of using an industry compliant standard. The precise customization of OpenStack to the individual company requirements can easily lead to an OpenStack environment that is incompatible with external OpenStack based cloud infrastructure. Thus, the connection of internal and external cloud infrastructure in a hybrid scenario becomes quite tricky.

The increasing relevance of OpenStack as a central technology component within cloud environments leads to a higher demand for specialized consultancy, integration and support services. This market is still in the nascent stage and big IT vendors are currently training and improving their staff knowledge. After all, the present supply of readily trained, skilled and experienced OpenStack administrators, architects and cloud service broker is negligible. CIOs should immediately plan how to build basic skill levels for OpenStack within their IT organizations. Even if specialized service contractors can help during the implementation and operation of OpenStack based clouds, IT architects and managers should still have the main responsibility and know what is happening. OpenStack is not an instant meal that just needs to be warmed up but rather a complex technology platform composed of several individual components whose configuration is rather matching the preparation of a multi-course gourmet dinner. Skills and passion are on the most wanted list.

Originally published at