Calling all “User Landians” to lead OpenStack above the cloud

User land.PNG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest post by

Evan Scheessele
HP Printing & Personal Systems

with Warren Volkmann

 

As I sat among the crowd at this year’s OpenStack Summit, I didn’t expect to be noticed. After all, I was just an HP employee from Oregon amid 4,500 people from around the world who came to Atlanta to hear the big names and deep technologists talk about OpenStack, the biggest open source program in cloud computing.

 

But when the summit was over and I was flying home, high above the clouds, I had a unsettling feeling. I couldn’t help but feel that “business application users” like me – users who work in businesses that run atop the OpenStack cloud – are under-defined and under-represented in the OpenStack community. At the summit, the word “user” rarely meant “business application user.”

 

Business-application users – those champions and technical leads who pilot the architecture and iterative operations of major apps for their enterprises – are under-represented in the voice of the collective community that is OpenStack.

This is a potentially costly oversight at this critical moment in OpenStack’s transition from nascent community vision to exciting enterprise strategy. For OpenStack to succeed and overtake its proprietary rivals, our business application users – OpenStack’s ultimate consumers – must not only be characterized, but warmly welcomed and deeply engaged.

Our knowledge of how OpenStack’s technology actually works – as applied to real-world business needs – will be key to OpenStack’s long-term success.

 

What’s a superuser?


super user.jpg
Let me show you what I mean about our faction being under-represented. Here is a photo of Jonathan Bryce, Executive Director of the OpenStack Foundation.

 

When I saw Jonathan present this “superuser” slide last month, I thought, “Cool! He’s going to talk about me and my peers operating businesses on top of OpenStack.” I am an IT manager-type who leads my cohort of developer and operations teams toward deeper use of Continuous Delivery practices and extensive automation on top of OpenStack deployments. Recently we got over the hump in moving a portfolio of HP printing-business workloads from Amazon Web Service to the HP Helion Public Cloud—an OpenStack deployment.

 

For the HP printing businesses that sponsor us, we built and operate a real-time, real-world collection of web-services that rely 24/7 on the OpenStack platform and its APIs. The operation is “enterprise scale.” In extent and scope, ours is in the top-tier of accounts in flight today on HP Helion Public Cloud.

 

So I know what OpenStack offers today, what OpenStack lacks, and how to work around those gaps to meet the needs of the HP printing and publishing businesses that sponsor my team. I am certainly a “poweruser,” if not a “superuser.” I gladly carry a flag for OpenStack being successful and making businesses successful at scale. But as Jonathan talked, I realized his definition of superuser didn’t extend up beyond the top of the cloud.

 

At the base of the cloud, there are OpenStack developers, writing and integrating code for new capabilities. Above them, up in the thunderhead, are the people who embrace and deploy OpenStack – the customer-operators. (If you are an OpenStack developer, these cloud-top folks look like remarkable “users” to you, even while they are still an integral part of today’s OpenStack community.)

 

Bryce’s superusers seem to me to be the community of most aggressive and successful customer-operators – the leader-CIOs, CTOs and service providers whose primary view is through an IT lens. For them, OpenStack is foremost a solution for transforming data centers. Those superusers are still very much “of the cloud.” They attend to and administer IT functions in the cloud, but they don’t necessarily interact in deep technical coordination with the business.

 

The more I listened, the more I concluded that OpenStack’s superusers – as discussed to date – aren’t native to the business side of their enterprises. Granted, some of the speakers we met are exceptions to this theme (e.g., Guillaume Aubuchon of DigitalFilm Tree, and Chris Launey from Disney), but generally I don’t see such leadership voices being further cultivated. Most of the superusers that I heard about embrace OpenStack deeply and advocate for its further adoption. Unfortunately, based on the “voice of OpenStack” that I heard at the summit, they mostly appear to work in IT cost centers that don’t derive direct revenue.

 

Purpose of clouds: to bring the rain

 

Thinking about direct revenue helped me pinpoint the missing voices from the summit. It has to do with the idea of a “value chain.” OpenStack’s superusers are essential, but they are not the final links in the value chain. Cloud operators are up the value chain a ways, and are removed a link or two from the cash-carrying customers who fuel the business.

 

In nature, the utility and usefulness of clouds is that they bring rain to water crops and sustain our existence. So let’s think about rain for a moment. At the summit, I felt like the only farmer at a cloud seeding convention. Around me were cloud seeding companies, meteorologists, and pilots, all excited about new cloud formation techniques. But as a farmer, I really don’t care about clouds. There’s no money in clouds. I care about rain. For an “ag” business, the ultimate function of clouds is to bring the rain that waters the crops that sell for cash. The land and its crops are the ultimate users of nature’s cloud technology. If cloud-centric businessmen don’t serve the farmers’ essential interests— they won’t be in business for long.

 

When I looked around at the OpenStack summit, I didn’t hear much advocating for the final links the value chain, those ultimate businesses benefitting from cloud-computing. Establishing those missing links is an essential next step for our community.   

 

User Land

 

Those of us who take OpenStack (as deployed by our vendor of choice) and use all those awesome cloud APIs to directly serve the needs of our businesses’ applications are, essentially, working above the cloud. I like to refer to this area as “User Land.”

 

In User Land, we are tightly aligned to the business. We know what the business does and what it needs. Foremost, we are measured and rewarded first by our businesses’ success. We will do whatever it takes to serve the business – in some cases circumventing the IT department if it can’t deliver affordable, agile infrastructure.

 

Let me show you where I see User Land fitting in the OpenStack community:

 

  • Platform developer world – Bottom of the cloud, the technology foundation
  • Operator world – Top of the cloud
  • Application world – Above the cloud ß This is User Land.

If you are developing OpenStack capabilities – like load balancing, monitoring and billing – then you work in the platform developer world. For you, it is likely that all those above-the-cloud business apps are lumped together in a buzzword bucket. The app names are just labels that get hung on different stacks.  You aren’t entirely passionate about the app. You care most about the functionality and reliability of the stack – the virtualized infrastructure – that is provisioned to run the app.

 

A developer in User Land, on the other hand, can tell you what the business app does, what customers it serves, what functions it performs, and what provisioning it requires. An operator in User Land might not know all the particulars, but they know who in the business will ring their phone when the app goes down.

 

Litmus test for User Land


You know you live in User Land when…

 

You use the public APIs and have no special privilege in the Cloud operations domain.

 

You can answer these questions:

  • What does the app do?
  • Who are the paying customers who use the app

You understand the cost of downtime to the business. (In a few minutes of downtime, the revenue lost by the cloud operator may be trivial, but the revenue lost by the business may be thousands of dollars.)

 

You think of the OpenStack cloud deployment that you run atop of in terms of a vendor relationship, with Service Level Agreements.

 

“Cloud Consumers”


Here is another example of the fuzzy definition of the term “user.” According to this report of OpenStack usage from this spring’s user-survey, my printing businesses and I are “cloud consumers.”

 

user types.pngThere weren’t many cloud consumers from User Land at the OpenStack Summit, but trust me, there are a lot of us up here above the clouds. Just think of all those “shadow IT” clouds popping up around your enterprise, especially as organic spend with Amazon Web Services. Those shadowy clouds are being set up and managed by IT-types and business developers who live and work in User Land.

 

“Execution environment”


At the OpenStack Summit, I stopped by the HP booth and HP-sponsored sessions to network and collect the updated buzz on HP’s just-announced Helion hybrid cloud platform and distro. HP was handing out a very informative booklet titled: OpenStack Technology – Breaking the Enterprise Barrier. (Click the title to order a hard copy for your shelf. Remember, I’m a printing-business guy!) Toward the back of the booklet, HP uses a different term for User Land. HP calls it the “execution environment” (as opposed to the “administration environment”):

The Execution environment offers functionality that makes the cloud run on top of the customer’s infrastructure while the Administration environment offers functionality required to install, configure, manage, and upgrade an HP Helion OpenStack-based cloud.

So User Land is getting some recognition, but at the community’s summit, I didn’t hear any talk about “users in the execution environment.” At the next OpenStack summit, I assert that we really do need to hear much more about this domain and its myriad of use-cases.

We will never be successful selling the credibility and vision around OpenStack if we don’t connect the dots beyond the people who set up OpenStack clouds. No one generates revenue simply by operating idle cloud infrastructure. It takes more than that for a business or corporate function to be successful. Operators need happy customers who run business apps on their cloud. If you don’t have happy customers, you won’t be a successful cloud business.

Calling all User Landians
Open Stack is only four years old. As a father of two boys who are about that age, I know that a big part of growing up is learning how to interact appropriately with others. To be successful in the long term, OpenStack will have to play well with businesses. OpenStack has to offer business operations teams the best tools in the tool box.

As a father, it is my responsibility to raise my boys properly, so they can be successful in the future. It is the same with OpenStack. This is an open-source community. I can’t call for “someone else” to do a better job designing OpenStack for users in the execution environment.

OpenStack’s success is my responsibility too, so this week I went to OpenStack.org and volunteered to contribute a voice in OpenStack discussions about user issues above the cloud. I hereby call on all other overlooked User Landians – frustrated API users, for instance – to join me. Together we will frame and carry forward the discussion of OpenStack’s evolution to meet the needs of “users in the execution environment.”

Join me in carrying the OpenStack conversation above the cloud tops into User Land.

You can reach me by leaving a comment below. I will get it and reach out to you personally. 

Labels: HP cloud
Comments
Tim Bell | ‎06-19-2014 01:27 AM

Work is starting on co-ordinating activities with the 'API consumers' within the OpenStack community. Chris Kemp from Nebula Inc has started work in this area so I'd suggest you contact him.

Sergio Salcedo | ‎07-23-2014 08:28 AM

I totally agree with you, as Gartner says OpenStack isn't ready for enterprises. It's capable and functional but confuse in business land. It took me days to understand that OpenStack is rather a complex environment with many possible recipes. Contrary to User Land that only need to choose one clearly defined recipe from few options.

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