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Scott Sanchez on OpenStack: Shifting a Mindset

Scott Sanchez on OpenStack: Shifting a Mindset

"I often stand in front of audiences filled with people who use storage servers. I ask them if they still name their servers. Inevitably, two-thirds of the people raise their hands. Their servers have names. ... It is definitely a mindset. ... You are not yet building quality applications. All of the innovation in the world is not going to solve that from an infrastructure perspective."

By Jack M. Germain
08/15/14 8:11 PM PT

OpenStack, which turned 4 years old this summer, began as a twinkle in Scott Sanchez's eyes. He was determined to turn the fledgling Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) platform he helped create into a thriving resource for public and private clouds.

OpenStack is an open source project. Its technology consists of a series of interrelated projects that provide users with the ability to create and manage both public and private cloud operations.

Scott Sanchez
OpenStack Guru Scott Sanchez is
vice president of strategy at MetaCloud.

Partnering with NASA, Rackspace Hosting launched the project in 2010. Since then, OpenStack has grown into a global software community of developers collaborating on a standard and scalable open source cloud operating system.

Sanchez joined Rackspace in early 2011 and was part of the team that developed OpenStack. He was intimately involved with building out the OpenStack ecosystem.

"My mission was simple. It was to make OpenStack win. My goal was always to make OpenStack a viable commercial alternative, even though it was open source," Sanchez told LinuxInsider.

He recently brought his passion for growing the OpenStack ecosystem to MetaCloud, where as vice president of strategy, he continues to promote its adoption. OpenStack's growth strategy relies on differentiating it from the competition and helping the market to understand what OpenStack is all about.

In this exclusive interview, LinuxInsider discusses with Sanchez his vision for OpenStack technology and the impact he sees OpenStack making in the market.

LinuxInsider: What strategy did you implement to push adoption of OpenStack?

Scott Sanchez: I always took the view, whenever I talked to hosting company providers and network providers and others, to help them understand what the value of this was. Once that started going well, I moved my focus to the users. The question was the same for me. How do we get across to the big companies and the small companies the value of OpenStack? How do I convince them that the shift of open source and the community brings value to them and their business. That is where my focus has been for the last number of years.

LI: Why is OpenStack so important?

Sanchez: From day one, the idea behind OpenStack was to give people an alternative that was truly open. When you look back to 2010 and 2011, your choices for what people thought was cloud were AWS and VMware. The idea that there could be a truly open alternative -- the way Linux back in the 1990s was starting to become mainstream -- was powerful. The idea of cloud is not infrastructure. It is really about how you use those resources. It is about how you can build and adapt applications to take advantage of resources and automation and APIs and all of these things that are so core to what people want to be doing.

LI: How close to making that idea a reality have you come?

Sanchez: The idea back then was to provide all of the infrastructure code necessary in an open way so that people can move their mindsets from the infrastructure that we have all been in for so long to the application mindset where the future is heading. Now, four years later, we have ... something like 17,000 members of the OpenStack community and something like over 400 companies in 140 countries. I think that people have more than shown that the idea back in 2010-2011 was the right thing at the right time.

LI: How does your new role at MetaCloud -- that is, focusing on a differentiated service -- advance your continuing dream for OpenStack?

Sanchez: What I mean by that is there are plenty of people that sell hardware for OpenStack. There are people who sell software and distributions of OpenStack just like in Linux. Just like in Linux, you have OpenStack developers who put their own kind of flavor into it. You have consulting companies and integrators for OpenStack technology. You have third-party companies that work with OpenStack users to supervise different pieces. What we do is different. We are all about how you operate the OpenStack environment.

LI: Why is it necessary to cultivate a differentiation?

Sanchez: We need people to understand there are differences. When they look at their existing resources, people will frequently get frustrated at the length of time it might take to get a new server or more storage or other changes made to their environments. Then they look at the cloud and take out their credit card. Now they become a shadow IT. The idea is to give somebody a private cloud environment that feels like it is public. In other words, it is always there. The lights are always on. It is always fast. If we can solve their operational challenges for these IT issues, then we can give them that public cloud experience, with the control and predictable cost models, without having their own infrastructure.

LI: That sounds like just another approach to selling a product around an open source project. How is it different?

Sanchez: What we sell is not hardware or software. What we sell is a private cloud that just works. It gives people that public cloud experience with the other attributes of a private cloud that they are looking for. We have no ulterior motives. What I mean by that is we have no underhanded business practices to protect. We are not selling operation services for clouds to try and move hardware or to try and move software licenses. We do not try to sell integration services. The thing that we sell is the operation of your cloud. That is complementary to the hundreds of other companies in the commercial ecosystem. Those guys are all trying to sell hardware or software or integration or third-party products. That is the beautiful thing about the open source ecosystem. It is the cross-section of companies that can provide all of the pieces of the ecosystem.

LI: How is that strategy different from other open source companies?

Sanchez: The big difference is that with all of the other commercial companies, everybody else goes home when their customer turns the lights on. Where we are very different is we take over, or we help architect it properly, and then we run it. We become an extension of the customer's IT ops team that helps run this thing. So all the challenges that come along with how you do that in the cloud are fundamentally different. For example, it is not upgrading the system every three years -- it is upgrading every three days or three months, or whenever new technologies come out.

LI: What in your mind makes OpenStack work?

Sanchez: The best way to answer that is with an airplane analogy. Any company can go to, say, Boeing and buy a plane. But unless you have all the maintenance crews and engineers and all the people that are monitoring and tuning on a daily basis, your plane is not going to be flying well for very long. The idea that operations are so key to the cloud is an important one. Unless you can give your developers an agile, adaptable cloud infrastructure, you are just going out and buying a private cloud that gets delivered to your loading dock, and you plug it in. It is not going to feel like a private cloud for very long. It is going to feel like the typical infrastructure that companies try to move away from. A company using the cloud has two options. One is to try building that expertise in-house. The other is use a company that builds it and then brings it to the customer as a service.

LI: What do you see as still being broken with Open Stack that the community needs to fix?

Sanchez: I do not think that there is something necessarily broken in the community. I think it is really on the user side. A lot of that has to do with how people build their applications. I often stand in front of audiences filled with people who use storage servers. I ask them if they still name their servers. Inevitably, two-thirds of the people raise their hands. Their servers have names. They are written down in a book somewhere and tracked. It is definitely a mindset that you are still in. It does not matter what cloud platform you pick -- public cloud or private cloud. You are not yet building quality applications. All of the innovation in the world is not going to solve that from an infrastructure perspective. A lot of that comes down to mindset.

LI: What is the biggest challenge in changing that perspective?

Sanchez: The biggest challenge is not 'what do we solve with OpenStack?' It is 'how do we get more of the world to start to build quality apps?' We have crossed the tipping point as far as I am concerned in terms of people knowing what they have to do. As more developers build these third-party apps, the quality is getting better. Companies are starting to realize that they do not want to write the apps and maintain their own cloud systems. It makes more sense to have a company manage their private cloud for them.

LI: What do you see on the horizon with advances in the OpenStack technology?

Sanchez: I think one of the main goals set out four years ago was to have one effective cloud standard. With everybody coming together on OpenStack, I think you find that it has become the standard. What I think is the biggest benefit, as well as opportunity, is the speed of innovation that can happen when people are not arguing over a standard but actually building something. You can see that with innovations that have happened around OpenStack, such as with networking, or around block and object storage and user innovation in the cloud. There are so many more examples where all of the vendors and all of the users of OpenStack come together to discuss and debate the right way to do something. So that really is a major shift in [IT] in the last 30 years. Now you actually have the users sitting at the same table as the vendors, discussing the right way to do something and actually collaborating with the developers.


Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear. You can connect with him on Google+.


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