The Stack Archive Feature

OpenStack: Why stagnating clouds are killing innovation

Fri 18 Aug 2017 | Mark Baker

OpenStack in enterprise

Mark Baker, Ubuntu Product Manager for OpenStack at Canonical discusses why businesses are turning to the open source platform and the key challenges they face on the journey

As companies increasingly operate within multi cloud environments, they are looking to establish a comprehensive strategy which covers all workloads, whether running on-premises or in the public cloud.

Businesses are starting to understand that OpenStack is a tool that represents an open, standardised way of delivering workloads, while also increasing the speed with which applications are developed and deployed.

Adoption of the software continues to grow steadily. Existing OpenStack users are growing their deployments, while there are many new customers coming online with initial cloud deployments.

Adoption is far from slowing at the moment, in fact, there are many new prospects who are taking a second look after previously discounting OpenStack as not being appropriate for them.

Customers that choose to heavily customise OpenStack during implementation are creating their own complexity

After seeing reports that competitor operations are much-improved thanks to advances made in tooling around OpenStack, they are keen to get involved.

Understanding the challenges

The perception of complexity is still the number one barrier to OpenStack adoption. As a platform designed to virtualise storage, networking and compute, the software touches many areas of data centre operations. Successful implementations require coordination across multiple groups in an organisation.

Many businesses are now starting to understand that they should focus on operations and robustness first and then look towards enhanced functionality with higher level services.

Those customers that choose to heavily customise OpenStack during implementation are creating their own complexity to manage which can cause issues during upgrades or integration with third party technologies.

However, as these companies have modified their OpenStack to fit their organisation, they now find themselves with a somewhat bleak choice; they can either select an expensive upgrade or turn to their own developers to find an alternative to OpenStack, which could lead to major security vulnerabilities.

This problem has been christened ‘Stuck Stack’; the situation where a company’s stack can move neither forward or back without considerable expense or upgrading.

A further challenge is understanding which platforms to choose for workloads. With all of the noise around container computing and serverless computing, organisations are unsure of if and how these technologies can be combined with OpenStack, often seeing it as an either/or choice.

Upgrading OpenStack

One of the key attractions of open source infrastructure is the ability and freedom to modify the software for your own business requirements. Many customers have done this to better fit OpenStack into their organisation, but if this has been executed incorrectly, any deviation from a supported distribution can create issues upgrading automatically.

Some OpenStack distributions have also only recently proved that they are able to manage upgrades without significant downtime and consulting.

Upgrades will sometimes require an upgrade of the underlying host operating system and managing all of this change can prove difficult.

Older versions of OpenStack are missing capabilities and features that organisations need to be taking advantage of

Many organisations simply failed to keep up with the rapid release cycle of the various OpenStack updates. With two releases each year and a support cycle which lasts 12 months, many companies inevitably fell behind.

A typical company’s approach to updating their system might look something like this; start considering the new release a few months after it appears, then run some tests and evaluations, before considering integration with other products and services. Eventually, after nine or ten months or so the release is ready to be rolled out – just as it’s officially approaching the end of its supported life span. As a consequence, many firms have fallen far behind.

Consequences of a Stuck Stack

By not effectively supporting OpenStack deployments, companies run two major risks. Firstly, security can be compromised. An out of date OpenStack environment is likely to be running with known security vulnerabilities.

Furthermore, companies risk reducing their ability to innovate. Older versions of OpenStack are missing capabilities and features that organisations need to be taking advantage of.

Businesses may be missing out on the ability to use third party authentication systems or the ability to manipulate the resources that processes virtual machines use for consistent performance.

Sticking to a supported distribution that tracks upstream is the best way to ensure that new enhancements can be taken advantage of as they become available which also frees up developer resources to work on innovation in the application space.


Canonical was created alongside Ubuntu to help it reach a wider market. Our services help governments and businesses the world over with migrations, management and support for their Ubuntu deployments. Together with our partners, we ensure that Ubuntu runs reliably on every platform from the PC and the smartphone to the server and, crucially, the cloud.

Experts featured:

Mark Baker

Ubuntu Product Manager for OpenStack


Cloud feature open source OpenStack
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