OpenStack, Canonical and EMC’s Latest Route to the Cloud

This week brought several examples of existing software and on-premise cloud solutions becoming a little easier to use or more widely available. While none were individually significant enough to spark dramatic transformation of the industry, these new tools, when put together, signify a maturing market. Whether it’s learning how to use OpenStack’s open-source cloud solution, procuring the hardware and software to set up a private cloud inside your organization or exploring the power of data analytics, each of the cases below make previously difficult activities a whole lot easier. And as the market moves beyond early adopters and evangelists, expect more of these straightforward explanations, simplified bundling of solutions and strengthening open communities of practice.

From bare-bones beginnings, OpenStack, the cloud infrastructure project initiated by Rackspace and NASA, has moved steadily along a path of increasing stability and functionality, but there’s still some way to go. Speaking in September last year, the project’s Jim Curry described the steps required to move from the project’s initial promises to deliver a viable, enterprise-ready cloud solution. This week, it announced its “Bexar” release, which brought further increases in functionality to the project’s compute and storage offerings.

In many ways, the most significant feature of this release is one that got remarkably little attention from commentators — the provision of online documentation describing the capabilities of OpenStack’s latest releases, and detailing the various ways in which components can be configured or customized. Boring, probably. Tedious to compile, for sure. But absolutely vital for any tool that wishes to move beyond the project insiders and the enthusiastic tyre kickers to reach enterprise-IT staff considering their options. It’s a sign of maturity, a sign of the OpenStack community’s commitment to deliver tools of value to a wider audience, and an invitation to a large new constituency to take a closer look at OpenStack and what it can do for them.

Earlier this week, Canonical announced that Dell’s enterprise customers are now able to order servers running Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud, a version of the Linux distribution that bundles Eucalyptus. Spun out of UC Santa Barbara, Eucalyptus is an open-source cloud infrastructure solution with an API that mirrors the functionality of Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud, EC2. The API ensures that enterprise customers can experiment with on-premise or private-cloud solutions (with Eucalyptus) and public-cloud solutions (with Amazon), and move back and forth between the two with relative ease. With Canonical announced as a new member of OpenStack just the day after its Dell news, it presumably won’t be long before OpenStack is also a pre-installed option through Dell.

Speaking at the Strata Conference in Santa Clara, Calif., EMC’s Luke Lonergan,VP and CTO of the company’s Data Computing Products division, announced the availability of Greenplum Community Edition. Certified to run on Dell (again!) and Sun hardware, Community Edition is available as a free download for those looking to explore the benefits of parallelizing data analysis across multiple nodes. Alongside the software itself, EMC is offering an open-source library of analytics algorithms and a new graphical toolkit for exploratory data analysis.

Lonergan stresses the importance of the community aspect to Community Edition, and talks of customer case studies, discussion forums and the like. All of this is intended to increase awareness of large-scale data analytics, encourage the sharing of tools and best practices, and ultimately drive people to buy more hardware, software and services from EMC. A rising tide floats all boats, of course, so EMC’s competitors also stand to gain from increased skills and awareness. Will they let EMC do the hard work, and hope to capture their share of a growing market almost by default, or is Community Edition just the beginning of a free/freemium land grab?

Taken together, it’s clearly been a good week for businesses at an early point in their adoption of this new generation of tools and approaches. We finish with more useful, free tools than we had at the beginning, more ways to get cloud-ready infrastructure into the enterprise, and more rough, but nonetheless improving, documentation to explain one of the most potentially disruptive activities (in OpenStack) in the cloud.

Not bad for just 72 hours.

Question of the week

Which of these three announcements is the most significant in the long term? Or is there one not mentioned that actually matters more?