Why is On-Demand OpenStack Important for SMBs?

On-demand OpenStack for SMBs

Why would we build a low-cost On-Demand OpenStack Private Cloud?

I have been getting this question a bit, sometimes with enthusiasm and sometimes with skepticism.  The skeptic will say something like “Are you trying to go up against AWS?” That is followed by, if a polite skeptic, “Is that wise?” 

Update 10/19/2020 – Flex Metal Cloud powered by OpenStack pricing released! Provisioning beginning Dec 2nd.

For sure it is an uphill battle to go against these mega cloud providers, no matter who you are.  In our case, we are not a big company, we are right around 400 people here at InMotion.  The big competitors have 10s of thousands of employees and billions of dollars.  So why would we try to take this on?

Well, first, we are part of a much larger whole.  The OpenStack community is huge and vibrant.  The last release had over 1000 individual contributors.  Many of those changes are from individuals but most changes are from staff within companies, small and large.

Redhat, for example, has a business model that embraces open source as a fundamental part of who they are and how they generate business.  I see companies like that as very positive for the overall continuity of the ecosystem.

Smaller businesses, like Vexxhost, CityNetworks, or Virtuozzo contribute heavily as well and provide balance to a company like Redhat.

However, before I cover where we fit into this ecosystem, let me digress a bit.

InMotion’s commitment to Open Source

I attribute much of my own success, and InMotion’s, directly to open source. 

First, let me share a personal message.  I got my start in this industry building from open source software and the mentality of being open and sharing.  I was originally a Mechanical Engineer in the auto industry but after only a few years out of college, I realized my passion was being part of the Internet.

I became a System Administrator/Developer/Entrepreneur. This may seem like a difficult change but it was straightforward because the technology that makes up the Internet is primarily open source software.  I could just download, learn, and start selling things on it.

I attribute much of my own success, and InMotion’s, directly to open source. We respect that history and thus have ingrained the open source philosophy and practice into the company.

Over the years, we have become increasingly concerned with the consolidation of IT infrastructure to the mega public cloud companies.  It even now concerns many System Admins, that if consolidation continues to the public clouds, the System Admin job will fundamentally change and in many cases, disappear. 

In the world of System Administration/Systems Engineers, designing and running large cloud infrastructures is the highest level of complexity that requires the most experienced Admins.  Without this “Infrastructure Architect” as a place to grow, the System Admin job becomes less complex as it loses a pinnacle role.

According to Gartner, Amazon owns almost 50% of the Worldwide IaaS Public Cloud Services Market Share

Gartner Amazon graphic

For many technical leaders, myself included, consolidating so much to so few companies is not healthy. Certainly not at a price of losing a great job type.  We have also been concerned that OpenStack, the top open source cloud management system has not seen much growth in the small and medium businesses.  It remains primarily a tool used by Enterprises or large hosting/cloud providers like ourselves.

But, and this is a critical point – our knowledge of hardware, OpenStack, and our hosting background all show that OpenStack pencils to be a very cost-effective cloud solution.  With the numbers working, plus its built-in security and governance models, and it being open source, we really feel that OpenStack belongs in the overall cloud ecosystem of today.

OpenStack pencils to be a very cost-effective cloud solution.

So with that being said, we have set out to make Openstack Private Clouds more accessible to drive adoption by small and medium businesses!

Why is it important for SMBs to be part of the OpenStack Open Source Community?

SMB’s technical teams, as an aggregate, are a massive number of potential users of OpenStack. Greater usage by SMBs will spur huge growth in use cases, deployments, and development resources for OpenStack. It is a massive, relatively untapped market that needs OpenStack to be more accessible.

SMBs are also where many, if not most, new technical people start their careers.  Getting OpenStack in their hands early in their career lets us battle the nonstop public cloud marketing those new techies are getting.

Can this help other organizations like Universities or Governments?

Yes.  The more accessible OpenStack becomes, the more it will automatically be at the table during early discussions of any organization.  We are working on a complete guide for On-Demand OpenStack for Education and On-Demand OpenStack for Government and will link to this once complete.

Why is OpenStack not in more common use by SMBs or similar organizations?

It is a stretch for a medium business to have these skills on staff and unlikely a small business will have more than 1 of them.

First, if you are not familiar with OpenStack, you might check out “What is OpenStack” first.

OpenStack has three major barriers for SMBs (and really all organizations, enterprises included):

1) A high-quality OpenStack requires a group of skilled System Engineers, including hardware specialists, network specialists, security specialists, and Linux specialists.  It is a stretch for a medium business to have these skills on staff and unlikely a small business will have more than 1 of them.

2) Even with the skilled group, most will not have experience with OpenStack.  In order to effectively learn to run a private cloud, the IT team has to convince their company to finance a “Pilot Program” of the potential cloud. Currently, those clouds can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in server and network gear, plus 3-12 months worth of development time.  And with that, many, maybe even the majority, of the pilots never turn into a production cloud.

3) There are many consulting and service companies, like Redhat, Canonical, Accenture, that will help introduce and manage your OpenStack – but they are almost exclusively aimed at enterprises and enterprise-level budgets.

Those three factors have put OpenStack private clouds out of reach for the vast majority of SMBs or organizations with similar constraints like smaller universities or mid sized nonprofits.

How are we addressing these barriers?

First, we have built a full HyperConverged On-Demand Private Cloud that starts with only three servers.  It can be spun up in about 45 minutes and used on a daily basis for under $20/day.  It is fully production-ready, with the OpenStack core services plus services we recommend for efficient day 2 operations. 

Flex Metal Cloud Engineering Schematic

1) Scalable enterprise architecture. It is simple to create new private clouds or to scale up or down existing private clouds.  Our OpenStack Storage is based on Ceph Octopus, the latest and most performant Ceph yet.  A customer can grow and shrink their data storage as needed.

The expensive and lengthy pilot program barrier is gone.

2) Privacy-first approach. Our On-Demand OpenStack cluster is completely private and the customer has the equivalent of “root” on all of OpenStack and the underlying servers. 

3) Support for skill-up. The automation playbooks used to deploy and manage the servers are available to the customer as needed for learning and growing their deployment.

The need for experts in all areas is replaced with a safe growth opportunity for your existing staff while lowering the company’s total cost of ownership. Consulting services are replaced with fast proof of concepts to introduce and build confidence in OpenStack.

4) Lower cost of entry. For companies that run their production clouds with us, we have also engineered a price point that can easily yield a Total Cost of Ownership that beats public clouds.  This includes the costs for your System Admin team to run the cloud themselves and continue being a key “Human Asset” for their company.  We will list our Private Cloud Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) Calculator publicly once available.

5) On-Demand Regions. Currently, this service will be available from our Ashburn, VA data center.  We plan to open this service in Dallas, Frankfurt, Singapore, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, Mumbai, and Sao Paulo.  Other locations are being considered and we are looking for customer feedback to guide this process.

6) On Premise Support. For those companies that choose to run their private clouds on premise, we are working with our hardware vendor to provide a standard “kit”.  Once our reference architecture document is complete we will list it here.

With our established playbooks for building and running OpenStack and Ceph, on premise private clouds will also be more efficient for first deployments.  InMotion can also provide support for those Private Clouds, Disaster Recovery Services, and On-Demand Regions from within our Data Centers.


To wrap it up:

  • On-Demand IaaS on OpenStack has arrived!
  • Includes a full Hosted Private Cloud
  • Greater adoption by SMBs will help drive OpenStack to greater growth and utility.
  • OpenStack is a great way for existing system administration teams to provide cloud to their company at a lower TCO than public clouds.
  • Open Source Clouds are critical to balance the mega clouds.

Finally, do we know exactly where we fit into the ecosystem?  No, but we do know that making OpenStack easier for “non-enterprise” customers – think SMB, universities, even governments, individuals for sure – we have removed numerous barriers from thousands of Admins that might never have considered OpenStack.

So, to go back to the original skeptic’s question – “Are you trying to go up against AWS?” – and the answer is, yes, for two reasons.

First, they are coming for us and open source whether we like it or not.  This is a clear reason on its own.  Second, though, the mega clouds are a dangerous future that need an open source alternative to temper their appetite.

Todd Robinson
Todd Robinson President at InMotion Hosting, BoldGrid, and – a big OpenStack fan!

I would really appreciate any thoughts and guidance you might want to share. Please connect with me on LinkedIn or leave a comment below with requests or questions — even corrections if I managed to mess up something!

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