When it comes to OpenStack cloud computing distributions, now offered by a variety of vendors, we are at a tipping point. As businesses and organizations demand flexible solutions for deploying cloud solutions based on OpenStack, competition is fierce. With so many vendors competing in this arena, market consolidation was bound to arrive, and it is here. What will the key differentiator be going forward? That would be support.
Just last month, Red Hat announced its latest platform: OpenStack Platform 9. One day later, VMware introduced VMware Integrated OpenStack 3. Both distributions are based on the OpenStack Mitaka release. From Mirantis to Canonical, Hewlett-Packard and others, there are now several OpenStack distribution providers competing with each other, and updates arrive at a rapid-fire pace.
At the same time, there is pronounced market consolidation, which is helping to highlight the importance of hardened, top-notch support. As The Next Platform recently noted: “For commercial-grade OpenStack, the options are pretty much Red Hat, Canonical, Mirantis, Cisco Systems, IBM, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, and Rackspace Hosting at this point…Mirantis is the last of the free-standing OpenStack distros, unless you count Canonical, which has done well with OpenStack, but Rackspace has the technical chops to compete with its hosted variant and maniacal support.”
A look at the history of seminal technology platforms shows that the winners in this competition will be the players that provide the best support. For example, in the enterprise Linux space, Red Hat has carved out an enormously advantageous position for itself by providing time-tested, solid support. The majority of Red Hat’s existing enterprise customers regularly renew their support subscriptions each year. That creates a constant positive flywheel effect for the company, which now books more than $2 billion in revenues each year — remarkable for a company focused solely on open source.
At this point, most of the key vendors competing in the OpenStack space base their distributions on the same frequently updated open source OpenStack core releases. At their cores, the distributions are not enormously different from each other, but support options and the quality of support vary widely.
Some of the smarter players in the OpenStack arena are banking on this. The folks at Red Hat, of course, know that hardened support for their OpenStack distribution is as important as it is on the Linux side of the company’s business. Rackspace refers early and often, in every forum it can, to its “fanatical support.”
Likewise, Mirantis is circling its wagons around flexible OpenStack support options. The company has announced a joint collaboration with SUSE to offer Mirantis OpenStack customers support for enterprise Linux. Both companies will collaborate technically to establish SUSE Linux Enterprise Server as a development platform for use with Mirantis OpenStack. Most notably of all, though, is a unique twist on this support strategy. Specifically, Mirantis and SUSE will collaborate to support Red Hat Enterprise Linux and CentOS, making Mirantis a one-stop shop for OpenStack support on several leading enterprise Linux distributions.
Consider that for a moment. Mirantis competes directly with Red Hat, but its new partnership will extend an olive branch toward supporting its competitor’s platform.
“Many of our larger customers run two or three different Linux flavors. Now OpenStack users can get support for their major Linux distributions in one place from Mirantis,” said Mirantis co-founder and CMO, Boris Renski. “Thousands of enterprises worldwide across major industries count on SUSE because they offer enterprise-grade, high reliability, bet-your-business service level agreements. Partnering with SUSE gives Mirantis customers access to this support as they build their private cloud.”
A couple of years ago, Renski authored an interesting post on how important broad, flexible support — and lack of vendor lock-in — would eventually become in the OpenStack space. “In this new era it is important to provide compatibility and support for your operating system, running on a variety of virtualization technologies, and across different private and public clouds,” he wrote. It’s even more important now.
Support is a giant cost center for companies that provide it, but those that do it well succeed. In the case of many open source projects, lack of quality support and incomplete documentation are often cited by administrators and decision makers when asked why they don’t favor this or that solution. In the OpenStack race, support is now the critical differentiator.
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