5 Questions You Should Ask a Potential OpenStack Vendor

As a business decision-maker (BDM), you may already see the advantages of implementing cloud computing and are discussing with your IT team various options to increase its use in your company. Running applications and storing data in a pay-as-you-go cloud model has great potential to increase business flexibility, which can help you more effectively address changing customer demands and save IT and operational costs.

If you’re talking about adding more cloud capabilities, then OpenStack should be on your IT team’s short list of cloud infrastructure options to consider.

OpenStack is an open source technology that provides a set of tools for building and managing cloud computing platforms. Using an OpenStack architecture can help get your organization’s cloud deployed and operating faster and more dependably than other cloud options.

scott_allen.jpgAs a business executive, you get paid to ask questions to ensure you are getting the best outcome for your firm. Likewise, you want to make sure your colleagues in IT are doing their due diligence as well when it comes to implementing an OpenStack-based environment. To start the conversation, here are five questions for your IT team to ask potential OpenStack vendors to ensure that your company is looking at the advantages of OpenStack from a business perspective, not just from an IT point of view. These questions can also help determine which OpenStack distribution is best for your company—or if OpenStack is the right solution at all.

But first, why is choosing to go with OpenStack so complicated?

Because of the open source nature of the architecture, OpenStack distributions are available from a variety of vendors and differ slightly. And although they are built on similar reference architectures, each distribution can be assembled with different component technologies and can be customized to match specific workloads.

Bottom line…the advantages of OpenStack extend beyond IT to broader business goals. Line of business executives have a lot riding on a successful OpenStack deployment, and should have a say when it comes time to select an OpenStack distribution.

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Now to the questions…

1. What kinds of workloads have your OpenStack distribution successfully supported in the past?

This is a great way to potentially find out how familiar vendors are with your business: Are they ready are they tackle your unique needs? By matching the vendor’s experience to your current workloads as well as to your projected OpenStack workloads 18 months from now, you can get a much clearer idea if a specific vendor has a strong chance of meeting your needs.

It’s important to think ahead, because most businesses don’t start out by placing their mission critical applications in the cloud (i.e., financials, etc.). Instead, they initially identify workload “sweet-spots” that help drive efficiencies, flexibility and cost savings without placing proprietary or confidential data beyond the firewall.

However, if these initial OpenStack deployments are successful, chances are good that you’ll begin to migrate more line-of-business applications to the cloud for increased efficiency and flexibility. Therefore, you—and your vendor—need to anticipate this potential path. Different types of workloads (mission critical production, ERP, core finance, order-taking, dev test, etc.) have different requirements and characteristics, and OpenStack will need to be tuned for each type of workload. Be up front about your longer-term needs.

This is just like when you are driving—you don’t look just 10 feet ahead of the car, you look down the road to make sure you are safely positioned to reach your destination. Make sure your IT folks and potential OpenStack vendors are using the same common sense when it comes to the future compute foundation for your business.

2. Does the vendor’s distribution offer any advantages for easily accessing and mining information from data exchanges and third-party cloud

For years, the function of corporate IT has been very internally focused. Day-to-day IT work used to focus on your people, your data, and your workflows, all within the walls of the enterprise. But that’s no longer true: today live data streams from outside the firewall are being built directly into business processes because they can deliver a broader, real time vision of critical factors that affect business success. In fact, subscription-based access to high-volume data sources is one of the benefits of cloud-based architectures.

Does one vendor’s OpenStack system make it easier to deal with varied external data sources than another? Be sure your IT team asks how individual OpenStack vendors will work with them to ensure clear lines of communication regarding how data streams will be deployed and used. Ask for specific examples and customer references from similar industries to yours to back up any claims.

Don’t settle for canned case studies or whitepapers alone: Make sure your IT folks get at least two or three customers to speak with about their OpenStack implementation. If a vendor cannot provide live customer testimonials, then maybe that company’s OpenStack isn’t as ready for your business as the presentation slides suggest.

3. How will you help my organization support an OpenStack deployment?

OpenStack technologies may be excellent but if there are only three people on Earth who can service and run the components of a particular distribution, then that’s a problem.

What does the talent pool for external support look like, and how difficult will it be to train an in-house support team? What training does the vendor offer for building in-house support? Do they see a need for training non-IT personnel? How long is their training? How often do they update their courseware?

A related question for your IT department to consider… since cloud is a form of distributed computing, your IT resources do not need to be local. If there isn’t a large pool of support expertise in your geographic area, would you consider moving your data center to an area where support options are more plentiful?

4. How much flexibility is built into your OpenStack solution?

If your company materially changes the types of workloads or applications you want OpenStack to support, can the distribution be re-tuned quickly and easily? When interviewing potential OpenStack vendors, ask for success story examples from within your industry detailing how the vendor has changed supported apps and workloads with their product. Just how open is this vendor’s OpenStack?

Also, ask OpenStack vendors to define the top five or 10 “value add” features in their distribution, and ask if they are amenable to transitioning to comparable offerings. This will give you a good idea for possible hurdles if you choose to go with a different vendor down the road, or switch from one distribution to another. Bottom line: How low is the bar for your business to leave a particular OpenStack solution?

5. In which specific areas can my business expect to see cost reductions from deploying an OpenStack infrastructure?

While there is no right or wrong answer to this question—because each business is different, and “your mileage may vary”—this query can help you determine, as did question #1, how well potential vendors understand your current business. What are the differences in how individual OpenStack distributions claim to save you money?

Ask about the potential for capital expense (CAPex) savings, such as reduced investment in hardware and equipment infrastructure, with an OpenStack deployment. A cloud-based infrastructure can help convert CAPex into variable operational expense (OPex) that can be turned on or off according to need.

Also, make sure your IT folks ask about the baseline environment the vendor is using to calculate CAPex savings. How closely does their baseline align with your current, non-OpenStack, based infrastructure? If their benchmarks are based on a very different infrastructure to yours, you probably won’t be able to take those CAPex savings to the bank.

OpenStack can help streamline how your business moves to the cloud, but the decision has both IT and business ramifications. I hope these questions will give you boosted confidence that business decision makers should have a seat at the table when the time comes to choose your OpenStack infrastructure. You have a stake in this game as it can impact your business performance and bottom line.

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What other questions come to mind for you? Leave a comment and let’s chat about how you can engage your IT team to improve your business outcomes.

For more insights on how to optimize your business with technology, follow me at @ScottIntel.