Why OpenStack is like kale — it’s cheap, easy to source and good for you

Sitting in on OpenStack Summit keynotes and sessions this week, I had an epiphany: OpenStack is to technology as kale is to food. Let me explain.

openstacklogolongIf you’ve taken part in CSA (community-assisted agriculture) program you know you get a bin of in-season fruits and veggies every other week or so — hopefully from a local farm. In that bin will be a few tomatoes, radishes, whatever and a ton of kale, which grows easily and big and is forgiving of bad weather. It’s prolific and it’s cheap. Then you find dishes and recipes to use that kale.

And this is where the fun begins: Kale, it turns out, can be used in everything. In chicken soup, in salads. It can be coated with sesame oil and roasted to make kale chips (my favorite). It can be sliced and diced in myriad ways. It can be boiled, fried (or sauteed, if you’re a fancypants) and baked. And it’s good for you.

Proponents would like to say the same about OpenStack.

OpenStack — in cable, in marketing, on a stick

Look at the various packages and delivery modes coming online: Red Hat(s rhat) this week announced the rollout of its RDO OpenStack distribution, “a freely available, community-supported distribution of OpenStack that runs on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Fedora and their derivatives.” Piston Cloud (see disclosure) offers what InformationWeek called OpenStack on a stick, the software packed on a memory stick for easy deployment. Nebula just brought out its OpenStack-in-a-box controller for linking legacy applications into the OpenStack arena. HP cloud guru Saar Gillai talked up his company’s “hardened” OpenStack for enterprise use. Cloudscaling offers an OpenStack cloud that will burst into Amazon(s amzn) or Google(s goog) public clouds as needed.

More to the point is that end-user organizations — not just the usual tech vendor suspects —  showed off some ways they actually use OpenStack. These included a new Comcast(s cmsa) online interactive cable TV guide that helps users quickly navigate their hundreds of channels to find the sporting event they want to see and bring it up on screen for a quick score check. There’s also Hubspot’s use of OpenStack to build a hybrid cloud that powers and helps target its inbound marketing campaigns. Whether or not you want to get targeted in-bound marketing, these are real use cases for the technologies that will impact actual users.

Key to OpenStack success? Making it disappear

As Florian Otel, head of HP Cloud Services in EMEA, told a session on enterprise use of OpenStack, that many of the technical gaps in the software have been filled over the past year and folks now have to focus on real customer value.

“Remember how many years we heard this would be the year of Linux on the desktop? That never happened. Android is what it took to make Linux attractive to desktop users,” he said. By bundling the underlying technology with hardware and a problem to solve and an application to solve it, Linux in another guise is hugely popular, he said. For those who would quibble with his Linux analogy, he added: “Linux has as much to do with Android as iOS has to do with BSD.

The same will be true for OpenStack he noted. As it becomes a platform or an enabler for higher-level services, it will take off.

Now, to get back to kale: The metaphor unravels a bit because most folks use kale as an adjunct to other foods (although not always) while the goal is for OpenStack to be the basis for a whole realm of services — for enterprise users, for mobile users, for fill-in-the-blank constituencies.

The big question this time next year will be how much of OpenStack is being consumed by the masses — whether they know it or not.

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr user by Nick Saltmarsh

Disclosure: Piston is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.