OpenStack and VMware vCloud appeal to different users

It’s very tempting to compare vCloud and OpenStack. It’s also very difficult to imagine an enterprise Cloud that both would actually compete. I wanted to take some time and really think about the two solutions and give a breakdown of why comparing the two solutions head to head doesn’t work.

This isn’t about directly comparing vCloud and OpenStack Public Clouds. The drivers for a Cloud provider choosing a Cloud management platform are different from an Enterprise choosing a Cloud manager. However, choosing one over another more or less locks you into either vCloud or OpenStack Public Clouds. So, it is a consideration but we are just looking at traditional enterprise public Clouds on this post. (Hey I have to save the consultants some work)

It’s important that we take a bit of time to frame the discussion of what I consider the “typical enterprise.” This is the non-high tech enterprise. We aren’t looking at developer heavy environments such as Paypal, Netflix, etc. We are looking at the enterprise that is highly virtualized, which looking at the market means VMware, Hyper-v or KVM to a much lesser extent. So, the “typical” administrator will have strong Windows skills.

I believe I’m of the same ilk of the typical traditional VMware enterprise sysadmin. If I were to still be in the business of administering servers, I’d be a Windows expert and feel comfortable managing Linux appliances within the environment. Thinking about these traditional enterprise admins brought me to thinking about how I’d go about evaluating OpenStack and vCloud. This isn’t as simple as comparing Hyper-V to Xen. OpenStack and vCloud look to please two difference targets with the little obvious overlap.

I like the NetworkWorld article asking if OpenStack is mature enough for the Enterprise. I believe it helps set the stage for what OpenStack is and is not. Earlier, I asked the question if the Enterprise has a need for OpenStack. At the time of writing, you needed to have a different skill set than someone who would manage vCloud to evaluate OpenStack. This represents the challenges in comparing the two solutions.

The OpenStack project is a platform designed from the ground up to provide an infrastructure for software developers to build Cloud aware applications. I believe OpenStack developers views the enterprise application developer as the eventual customer. This is an important observation. With earlier versions of OpenStack, the administrator who wanted to take it for a dry run would find that they needed developer-like skill. This is a different skill set than most administrators that run Windows infrastructures. Most Linux admins wouldn’t have much trouble installing the solution. However, once you did get it installed what do you do with it? In earlier releases there wasn’t a web portal to control the environment such that exists in solutions like vCenter and System Center Operation’s Manager (SCOM).

After, getting OpenStack installed; you had all of the services running that allowed applications to leverage the virtual resources through OpenStack’s API’s. The admin had some ability to define and configure physical compute, storage and network resources for provisioning via the command line and scripts. This is foreign to the traditional Windows administrator and is a completely different approach to consuming physical resources vs. the VMware model. It’s not better or worse, it’s different. However, who are the solutions targeting when it comes to the enterprise?

Developer’s build applications and don’t manage the data center. But given the option of which solution best supports their goals for building Cloud aware applications, I believe they’d understand and prefer the OpenStack model for Cloud management. But, again they don’t run the data center.

Administrators install, configure and administer data center management tools. They usually have a different set of requirements and general interests for management software than developers. Their roles are fundamentally different and this shows from the installation experience of the solutions.

That’s why I like how OpenStack is maturing. Rackspace now offers a packaged install for OpenStack. I haven’t played around with it yet, but I plan to get it in the lab and see if the interface makes sense to a traditional Sysadmin such as I used to be.

VMware actually has the opposite problem. vCloud does a great job of provisioning physical resources similar to how we do and understand it today. vCloud wasn’t designed from the ground up to provide a different approach to infrastructure consumption. It’s a Cloud manager bolted on top of vSphere. The previous VMware management team’s strategy was to marry Cloud Foundry and vCloud to provide the rich API’s that developer’s need to build Cloud aware applications within the enterprise. However, VMware has since refocused on its core hypervisor and Data Center management software products. Cloud Foundry will continue to be a hypervisor independent solution for building Cloud applications.

I’m not a fashion guy, but I know if I buy a pair of Nike Air Jordans and a Air Jordan Jump Suit then I have a pretty good idea that I will have a matching outfit without much thought. This is vCloud and vSphere. They are more or less the same. If the end consumer is other administrators then it’s easy to design a consumption model based on provisioning virtual machines or vApps. For large organizations that have multiple system administrators that need to provision virtual machines, vCloud Director just feels comfortable. It takes more work to make developers feel the same way.

So, like most software evaluations it boils down to the business requirements and the features needed. What type of service are you trying to deliver and to what consumers of the Cloud end up being the driver. After the decision is made I think from a pure OpenStack vs. VMware becomes a much simpler comparison with one caveat; that being your Public Cloud strategy. If you have some religious, political or business driver that forces OpenStack over VMware or vice versa then, you have some work.

Either solution can be made to fit the needed use case, but you will need to customize each solution to get you to where you need to be functional. This could have been a much bigger post that looked at the actual features and more limitations of each platform. But, that’s the propose of the comments section and Twitter

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Published by Keith Townsend

Now I'm @CTOAdvisor

18 thoughts on “OpenStack and VMware vCloud appeal to different users

  1. “VMware or Hyper-v with KVM” I think you wanted to write something different there ?

    Maybe we are looking at this wrong and the real question is: Will there be companies offering solutions based on OpenStack.

    The answer is obviously: yes.

    Not only that, they want to make the “Hybrid Cloud” possible. Would all the other vendors (not VMware or Microsoft) create a public cloud based on vCloud or Hyper-V ? I think that answer is: no.

    And I think that is why all these companies like Rackspace, HP, Dell have started or joined OpenStack, they are solution providers after all.

    1. Let me add some things:

      I forgot to mention Citrix I guess they are in the category of VMware and Microsoft.

      OpenStack is and will always be like LEGO, you take the blocks you want and build the stack, euh cloud you want. You’ll have to make the choices.

      Will there be an OpenStack project which will allow enterprises to easily deploy a cloud based on very few choices, a so called turnkey solution, I don’t know.

      There will be lots of companies with their own turnkey solution or advise how to set it up quickly for your needs. There will be hardware vendors (like Dell, HP), consulting/software vendors (like RedHat, Canonical/Ubuntu, Piston, CloudScaling, Nebula, Mirantis, Hastexo) and even hosting-, euh cloud-providers (Rackspace, maybe DreamHost ?)

      Will they be compatible and use the same API: yes, I believe so.

      Will they be compatible with Amazon, for the most part: yes, where it makes sense.

      Anyway you look at it, OpenStack Quantum is what is attracting the network hardware vendors right now. You really need more than just compute to do ‘real cloud’, you need networking to. Even certain storage vendors are involved in OpenStack.

      Networking is really what is slowing it all down, you don’t want to ask a coworker to configure the network and wait. Cloud is about self service.

      If you want something that works with the hardware you have to hope your network vendor creates a plugin for vCloud or Hyper-V. And if you have a heterogeneous network you are probably out of luck. Or use OpenStack Quantum which has build in support for many. That seems to be the choice.

      Or use overlays were possible, but as I understand it most enterprise networks are not structured to fit that needs of overlays. But you might be able to use the same hardware to build it with overlays (without getting that hardware vendor involved).

      1. Pretty good points Lennie. I’m wondering if the reason that VMware joined OpenStack is to either 1. Allow for compatibility between OpenStack API’s and vCloud/vCenter or 2. to create a packaged solution around OpenStack that has elements of vCloud.

        Either way, I don’t see the two platforms playing nice anytime soon.

        VMware does have the advantage that they have Nicira and they are owned by EMC. They can demostrate a higher level of automation (at least with storage and some Cisco networking) that OpenStack can’t at the moment (I’m guessing based on your comments).

      2. Probably 3. same reason Microsoft is involved with OpenStack, to make sure their hypervisor works with OpenStack to make sure people can easily redeploy the same VMs on their platform to make it easier to switch to their platform than any other (hypervisors are a form of lock-in too).

        Nicera and even EMC were already involved with OpenStack before the any of these companies got bought.

        It’s a way for all these companines to stay relevant in case OpenStack becomes really populair. So many companies joined OpenStack in a short while, everyone had to join.

  2. The more technical enterprises have deployed OpenStack already, it’s just a matter of time now for others to start doing the same:

    The videos are starting to come online:

    It is really impressive what ComCast is doing with their STB, the video from last year has much more technical detail:

    They don’t seem to be delivering something like webpages, but ‘screens’ ? So the STB is mostly a dump terminal it seems.

    Anyway you look at it, this is a service that needs to be up and running a 100% of the time or they’ll be flooded with supportcalls. And they’ll have lots of peak loads to deal with too.

    1. I think the more technical companies are there but those that look at delivering infrastructure from a pure VM perspective they are a while away from getting to where Comcast is at. I just don’t see the traditional enterprise investing in the development work needed to deploy their entire private cloud using OpenStack just yet.

      1. I just meant, the technical ‘users’ have done test setups a few releases ago and are now using it in production. It will probably take a few more releases before OpenStack has a simple default installation (method) and then the less technical users will start to do lab/test setups too.

        Or maybe Canonical/Ubuntu has already delivered on that promise ?:

  3. Very nice description of the differences between OpenStack and VMware vCloud from the Datacenter Operations point of view. From some of my other reading on these two products, they are aimed at supporting different types of applications. As you point out, OpenStack has hooks for application developers to integrate applications to Openstack, much more so than vCloud does. What gave me some light, and a way to explain to IT management the differences between the two, and a cool analogy of Pets vs Cattle. OpenStack provides the platform to build individual applications that can fully take advantage of the scalability on demand and failure recovery of a cloud service, but you need to build that into the applications to take full advantage of it. vCloud provides a platform that provides resilience and simplified deployment to traditionally developed applications.
    The article I reference is: “vCloud, OpenStack, Pets and Cattle « IT 2.0” at

      1. Ohh, I thought I had mentioned Pets and Cattle before. I think it’s a great analogy.

        Anyway, it isn’t very difficult to make OpenStack take care of your pets. The most foolproof might use clustering software on the virtualization nodes, but anyway you do fencing will be enough. The OpenStack API that needs to be called already exists.

  4. spell much? if you are going to blog and portray yourself as an expert at least have the courtesy to spell check and grammar check. hard to respect a guy that types elk instead of ilk (and thats just 1 of at least 30 i mentally tracked while reading)

  5. Excellent article Keith .
    DJ – The internet is full of idiots like you. Why don’t you write yours rather than criticize ?

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