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OpenStack’s HAL 9000 Moment

Posted by Jason Bloomberg on Nov 26, 2013

A recent blog post by Gartner Analyst Alessandro Perilli created a bit of a dustup in the OpenStack world. He wondered why vendors can’t sell OpenStack to enterprises, and came up with four basic answers: lack of clarity about what OpenStack actually does, lack of transparency about OpenStack’s business model, lack of vision, and lack of pragmatism.

All four points are quite valid and Perilli’s argument holds water as far as it goes. However, his argument as well as the contrasting opinions of OpenStack aficionados all miss a larger point here.

Perilli provides some interesting insight into what Gartner customers are looking for when they ask for OpenStack advice: he points out “how many large enterprises keep calling Gartner asking clarifications about what OpenStack is and how they could leverage it to reduce their dependency from VMware.” This statement reveals two interesting truths: first, many Gartner enterprise customers don’t really understand OpenStack, and second, those same customers have VMware products but have problems either with VMware the company, or their products, or perhaps both.



Fair enough. However, the first question out of enterprise customers’ mouths isn’t “how can we use OpenStack to build a Private Cloud?” Why not? Given that OpenStack’s core value proposition to enterprise customers is to form the core orchestration platform for building Private Clouds, the obvious question is why those customers aren’t thinking in terms of Private Clouds.

The answer that illustrates the larger point here: nobody really wants a Private Cloud. In fact, there are two types of enterprise Cloud customers: those who think they want a Private Cloud but don’t really want one, and those who don’t think they want a Private Cloud and in truth, don’t actually want one.

There are many reasons why people might think they want a Private Cloud: better security, greater control, increased flexibility, or better regulatory compliance, to name the most popular reasons. But in fact, Public Clouds either offer these qualities in much greater abundance than Private Clouds, or they soon will, once Public Clouds have matured a bit more.

Furthermore, there are many reasons why companies don’t really want Private Clouds: they’re far more difficult to build than anybody thinks, they’re surprisingly expensive and difficult to secure, and they don’t offer the elasticity benefit so important to Cloud Computing. In fact, many purported Private Clouds currently up and running aren’t really Clouds at all, because they lack the automated provisioning, configuration, management, and monitoring that differentiate true Clouds from nothing more than virtualized data centers.

What do all these provocative points mean to OpenStack? Bottom line: they are stuck in a HAL 9000 moment. Remember HAL 9000, the sentient computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey that tried to kill the crew? As we learned in the sequel, the reason HAL went bonkers was because it was given contradictory instructions.

Just so with OpenStack: While OpenStack supports both Public and Private Clouds, the OpenStack enterprise story is a Private Cloud story. Only nobody really wants a Private Cloud. So what should OpenStack build for the enterprise, and what should they say about what they have to offer?

“You can’t do that, Dave…”


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