In the last post I wrote that Unbuntu 14.04 LTS was one of the best, if not the best, operating system you can install on today’s personal computers. By personal computer I mean desktop or notebook. For other devices, such as phones and tablets (read ARM-based) I have no idea. Making some sort of sweeping claim in that domain, based on preliminary software running on preliminary hardware, is a foolish action. Let me just say that based on my experiences with both iOS and Android that Ubuntu does have a chance, although they’ll need to pay very close attention to the user experience to gain a foothold. The user experience with Ubuntu Desktop is excellent, which is why I heartily endorse its use (Richard Stallman’s FUD notwithstanding).
While I certainly understand all the attraction with portable devices, the real interesting work is being done on the server side. Ubuntu is positioning its server products for both individual use and as part of the “cloud” infrastructure. Ubuntu is now marketing the Ubuntu Server software stack with OpenStack, the open source virtualization/”cloud” framework. OpenStack is interesting in that its genesis came about as part of a collaborative effort between NASA and Rackspace in 2010. They developed it on Ubuntu, which became the default OS for deployment. Over the years that followed, just about everybody of note within the “cloud” vendor community joined in. It should be noted that NASA dropped out of active participation in 2013 citing “lack of technical progress [PDF].” It instead decided to look at using public “clouds” to use. Personally I look at this as some bean-counter having gotten into the middle if it. After all, if there’s anyone who should be providing technical leadership to drive technical progress, I can’t think of anyone better suited than NASA. But then, what do I know…
It was Ubuntu 11.04 that started to officially begin integration of OpenStack, starting with the OpenStack “Bexar” release. Full support came about with Ubuntu 11.10 and the OpenStack “Cactus” release. It wasn’t until 2012 and OpenStack “Essex” that Redhat announced a preview for RHEL (they may have started earlier with Fedora, as I remember Fedora 18 having OpenStack in its repository system). Formal Redhat support came at the end of 2012 with the OpenStack “Grizzley” release. Canonical had started integration and support within Ubuntu a full year before Redhat. The fact OpenStack was initially developed on Ubuntu, and official Ubuntu support starting with 11.04, are big pluses for Canonical over Redhat in my book.
Having written all those positive words, there are some negatives to consider. Just google for “openstack problems” and see what pops up. For example, there’s this story, titled ““Backbreaking” OpenStack migrations hinder enterprise upgrades,” with the following lovely summary:
OpenStack’s promise of an open-source cloud infrastructure free of vendor lock-in is big. But difficulties upgrading from one release to the next are a major kink that needs to be worked out before widespread adoption can begin.
Or consider this article written on The Register November 2013, titled amusingly enough, “Gartner: OpenStack in the enterprise? Ha ha ha, you must be joking,” in which they cite a Gartner analyst:
The OpenStack world has come in for criticism from a Gartner analyst because the claims made by companies backing the open-source project frequently don’t line up with reality.
In a forthright post published on Tuesday Gartner analyst and research director Alessandro Perilli chided the OpenStack community for a lack of clarity, lack of transparency, lack of vision, and lack of pragmatism.
OpenStack is touted as being an open-source infrastructure deployment and management engine that lets companies load up a free software suite to help them take on proprietary cloud giants such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google.
But besides Rackspace and HP, few public implementations of the product exist, and it doesn’t seem to have accrued the level of cash necessary for it to slow the rise of the mega-clouds.
Perilli put some of the blame for this slow growth at vendor marketing (and credulous tech press reports) that have claimed OpenStack is making huge strides into the enterprise, when in fact it’s barely there at all.
“Don’t believe the hype generated by press and vendor marketing: OpenStack penetration in the large enterprise market is minimal,” Perilli said. “Yes, there are some ongoing deployments that can’t be disclosed yet, but for one promising or successful deployment there are several that fail and that will forever remain undocumented.”
The criticisms line up with a recent wave of discussion that has percolated through the cloud industry as the community starts to wonder why after three years of major development the OpenStack technology is still lacking key features at its core, and why so few people seem to be making much money from it.
This reminds me of my so-called early days in 2007 with Ubuntu. As I noted in the last post, I dropped Ubuntu (and Linux in general) because of the difficulties upgrading from one release to the next. Yes, those updates were a “major kink,” primarily because of hardware (read: video primarily) regressions. If OpenStack has been, essentially, a series of pre-releases with major changes in the product, then it’s a train-wreck in progress. My experience to date have been with VMware (ESXi 4 and 5), and it has worked flawlessly. When I handled an upgrade from ESXi 4 to 5, it went without a hitch. I had over 60 VMs on a small two-server stack, and nothing happened. Except it all came back up and everything continued on, as it should.
I like the promises being made, but I won’t get stuck with a poor product because it’s free and open. Ideology, no matter how pure, don’t pay the bills if it leads to poor or broken products. The only way to test this out is to actually invest in some decent hardware and install the software. It may be that 14.04 LTS is the best way to get started with this.
I truly hope that Ubuntu has invested some considerable effort to polish and harden OpenStack for 14.04. They seem to have established themselves on the server front, as that’s the area where they seem to be “cashflow positive.” And I take everything, both hype and hyper criticism, with a lot of skepticism. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle of all that mess.
 I have not tried Firefox OS for mobile. And Tizen is a mess, what with Samsung having introduced three wearable product groups with Android, Tizen, and now Android Wearable, in that order.