OpenStack sees new use cases in edge computing and fast-growing interest in China

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And the Emmy goes to… Apple, DJI, Microsoft and Comcast (?! 💁)

OpenStack, the massive open-source project that aims to bring the power and ease of use of public clouds like AWS and Azure to private data centers, today launched Pike, the sixteenth major version of its software. As usual, there’s a massive number of updates here, but the core theme is that the various development teams have focused on making OpenStack more composable, so that companies can more easily pick and choose the features they want. In addition, the community has renewed its focus on helping OpenStack operators manage the lifecycle of the various OpenStack tools with services like Kubernetes and Ansible.

Mark Collier, the OpenStack Foundation’s COO, and Lauren Sell, the organization’s VP of Marketing and Community Services, told me earlier this week that they are now seeing a number of emerging use cases for OpenStack. One of these is edge computing — a trend that Microsoft, Amazon and other public cloud providers are also now addressing. “There is a huge demand for cloud computing in many different forms,” Collier said. “That’s impacting what we’re doing.” Some of the most prominent companies that are now looking at using OpenStack for their edge computing solution include Verizon (TechCrunch’s corporate overlords), Walmart (which wants to do computing right in its stores) and Inmarsat (which is looking at using OpenStack to power the on-board computing power on large ships).

Collier and Sell also noted that in their view, multi-cloud is becoming a standard operating model now and that many of the businesses the organization is talking to aren’t just looking at using multiple public clouds for their workloads but are also operating private clouds. “One piece of this, too, is that it’s also not that binary — it’s not private or public,” Sell said. “It’s becoming much more of a spectrum.”

Why the trend toward private clouds? Collier and Sell argue that it’s about cost, capabilities and compliance. Indeed, I’ve now heard from a number of enterprises that are moving to private clouds because their steady workloads aren’t a good fit for the public cloud billing model, which gives you a lot of flexibility to turn servers on and off, but you pay a premium for that. For workloads that run close to 24/7, operating a private cloud can often be more affordable.

For many companies, a private cloud also gives them access to capabilities that aren’t available in the public cloud. That may be specific networking functions for the many telecoms that operate OpenStack deployments, or specific hardware for machine learning workloads. For others, operating a private cloud isn’t even optional, especially if they have to fulfill certain regulatory and data sovereignty requirements.

Collier also noted there’s a trend toward having third-party vendors like RackSpace, Canonical or Mirantis operate these private clouds, which in his view means that the companies are getting the best of both worlds: the cost-savings and capabilities of a private cloud combined with the ease of use of public clouds.

OpenStack also is seeing massive growth in interest in China. Some of the largest enterprises there run OpenStack clouds, including the country’s largest railway system, China UnionPay, China Mobile, Huawei and ZTE. It’s also worth noting that Tencent’s massively popular WeChat service runs at least partially on OpenStack. This momentum is creating a new local startup ecosystem of companies that want to support these users.

Looking ahead, Collier and Sell noted that the organization is now looking at how the project can better support new use cases like edge computing and machine learning.