Is OpenStack Cloud Computing Rocket Science? asked Mark Hinkle on the Socialized Software blog

On Monday 20 August 2012 I saw a tweet from Joss Winn which provided a link to a blog post about a survey  of OpenStack in academia. From the OpenStack Web site we find that “OpenStack is a global collaboration of developers and cloud computing technologists producing the ubiquitous open source cloud computing platform for public and private clouds“.

The launch of OpenStack in 2010 was accompanied by a certain amount of excitement in the blogosphere, with a post entitled Is OpenStack Cloud Computing Rocket Science? announcing that:

Today Rackspace has thrown their hat in the ring with their new OpenStack initiative in collaboration with NASA — as in rocket scientists, smartest guys in the world. Unlike Amazon’s EC2 which preaches open APIs, Rackspace is working to develop an open source platform that compliments their hosted cloud offering.

before going on to describe how:

The goal of OpenStack is to allow any organization to create and offer cloud computing capabilities using open source software running on standard hardware.

Joss’s methodology for finding about more about use of OpenStack was to use Google to search for uses in US Universities, using the Google search string site:edu “openstack”; in the UK educational sector using the search string “openstack” and in the Australian using the search string “openstack”.

The most interesting results Joss found were:

  • MIT’s Computer Science and Artifical Intelligence Laboratory seem to be active in running their own cloud. 768 cores and 3TB of RAM. Not bad!
  • Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Science also have their own cloud. They seem to have two installations running at the moment, one being deployed via Puppet.
  • The University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute (part of the School of Engineering) have a research group that are “interested in extending OpenStack as a platform for academic research in cloud computing.”
  • The University of Alabama’s College of Engineering are running OpenStack on their HPC cluster.
  • The Engineering Task Force, part of the UK’s e-science programme, undertook an evaluation of OpenStack last year. It’s a year old now and things have moved on, but it’s still worth a read. They conclude that OpenStack “is a mature, well-backed software for implementing an Infrastructure as a Service Cloud. The set of features and multicomponent architecture allows many different deployment scenarios to be developed addressing differing needs for scale, availability and reliability.”
  • St Andrews have a research group that uses OpenStack. They aim “to become an international centre of excellence for research and teaching in cloud computing and will provide advice and information to businesses interested in using cloud-based services.” It’s good to see opensck being integrated into teaching and they’ve also run some related HackDays, too.
  • The University of Surrey’s Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences have an OpenStack cloud that’s also used in undergraduate and post-graduate teaching, as well as supporting research projects. Surrey’s setup and objectives seem to be similar to what we currently have in mind for Lincoln.
  • Australia’s nationally funded NeCTAR service offer cloud computing facilities that are accessible to researchers across the country.
  • Eduserv are also considering whether to offer OpenStack as part of their cloud computing service. One nice thing about this, compared to other commercial offerings, is that it would run on the JANET backbone.
  • Methodology, search for term restricted in academic domain in UK, US and Australia.

On the same day I saw a message on the JISCMail Web-support list from Caleb Racey, Systems architecture Manager at Newcastle University who asked “Is anyone using a content delivery network (CDN) like Amazon cloud front for their main university website?“.  Might we use the same approach which Joss used, I wondered?  Unlike Joss’s case, in which he was searching for a single word which is not in common usage in normal usage, Caleb’s needed to search for a combination of commons words (“amazon”, “content”, “delivery” and “network” which may also be referred to by an abbreviation (“CDN”) – this will probably be more to search, with the need to remove false hits. I’ll there leave it to Caleb to determine whether the search results for “Amazon CDN” provide useful results from US Universities, UK Universities and Australian Universities.

Google Insights search for ‘Amazon CDN’

Google Insights search for ‘Openstack’

But in addition to such searches for education institutions which host content containing such search strings it struck me that it would also be useful to visualise trends of searches for such terms, in order to identify the extent of the growth of interest in, in this case, Openstack and Amazon Content Delivery Networks. The first image shown below gives the trends for a Google search for “Openstack” and the second for a search of “Amazon CDN”.

In both examples we can see when searches begin: in early 2010 for ‘Openstack’ and early 2008 for ‘Amazon CDN’. The first search also highlights news stories which generated particular spikes (although these are now clearly visible in the screenshot):

A Rackspace Launches OpenStack-based Private Cloud Software — Enables Businesses to Install, Test and Run Private Clouds in Minutes
B Rackspace debuts OpenStack cloud servers
C First ARM Technology-Powered Cloud Debuts on OpenStack(R)
D Cisco + OpenFlow + OpenStack = ONE software-defined network
E Mirantis Joins Dell Partner Program for OpenStack-Powered Cloud Solution
F Nebula Elected to New OpenStack Leadership Positions
G Rackspace Soon to Partner With Developers of Private OpenStack Distros

It does seem to me that use of Google Insights could be a useful tool to identify growth in interest in new technologies and can complement the search approaches taken by Joss Winn. However both Joss Winn and Caleb Racey employed another useful technique for helping to find evidence of take-up of new technologies: asking people! In Joss’s case he used Twitter and his blog whereas Caleb used a mailing list. I also hope that this post helps Joss and Caleb in finding further examples of uses of Open Stack and Amazon CDN. Feel free to give any further links as a comment on this post – I’ll alert Joss and Caleb to any appropriate responses.