Can PayPal help make this the year OpenStack grows up?

Online payment giant PayPal has transformed its IT mindset, and heavy use of OpenStack has been one of the biggest manifestations of the change. In fact, the open source cloud computing platform is now running “reliably, resiliently and at scale” within PayPal, powering 20 percent of PayPal servers and “a very significant amount of production traffic,” Ryan Granard, vice president of global cloud services at both PayPal and parent company eBay, told me during a recent interview.

Granted, neither the 20-percent statistic nor PayPal’s transformation into an open-source and devops-centric IT shop are particularly big news — Granard discussed both, as well as the company’s OpenShift-based platform-as-a-service efforts — in a talk at our Structure conference in June — but they are big feathers in the cap for OpenStack. The project has spurred an avalanche of startup, big vendor and venture capital activity since it launched in 2010, but has yet to attract (at least publicly) a lot of big-name users outside the service provider community. Perhaps PayPal can help change that by helping make an infamously difficult-to-manage OpenStack more suitable for enterprise consumption..

The company seeks out energetic communities when choosing open source technologies but, Granard said, “Where we see a gap, we’re not afraid to leap to be a driver or leader ourselves. … It’s not a matter that we don’t invest internally, we do.”

We’re just starting to see the fruits of PayPal’s investment in OpenStack. One of the company’s most notable innovations so far is Aurora — a version of Netflix’s Asgard management system for Amazon Web Services that PayPal reengineered (with Netflix’s help) to work with OpenStack. Granard said Aurora came about because OpenStack still lacks capabilities on the operations front that are necessary to simplify its management in a production environment.

Ryan Granard at Structure 2013.

Ryan Granard at Structure 2013.

It’s that kind of effort that could make PayPal integral to OpenStack as an open source project, if not a platform that can support numerous companies trying to sell different versions of it or provide support on top of it. Despite the criticisms leveled against project co-founder Rackspace a couple years ago, OpenStack has arguably suffered from not having a benevolent dictator to drive its direction. At the least, it has suffered from not having major end-users driving new capabilities like Yahoo and Facebook did for big data platform Hadoop, for example.

Already, said Granard, “We’ve taken things farther than I think a lot of folks could have taken it.”

Check out Granard’s Structure talk about PayPal’s cloud platform in the video below.

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