OpenStack: a window of opportunity to win on the edge

May 15 2019
by Al Sadowski, Agatha Poon


The first Open Infrastructure Summit recently took place in Denver for the rollout of the OpenStack Stein release. It replaces the biannual OpenStack Summits that were once the place to be for open source cloud infrastructure orchestration and automation software enthusiasts. Sponsors and attendees were lighter than past events, partly due to event marketing dollars and business-development executives from the vendors moving on to the latest shiny object – Kubernetes and its related events.

The OpenStack Foundation (OSF), along with its 100,000-plus community members, has expanded beyond OpenStack and now includes StarlingX (edge), Kata Containers (secure containers), Zuul (integration testing) and Airship (lifecycle management) in its portfolio of open source projects looking to attract a bigger audience, especially for the new frontier of edge computing and IoT-related workloads.

The 451 Take

Much to the dismay of its long-time detractors, OpenStack is not dead. It is just no longer the shiny new object –“ that torch has passed to Kubernetes. While it initially sought to replace AWS and VMware as the go-to platform software for private and public cloud infrastructure management, this open source software has found its niche with regional service providers, research institutions and large enterprise private clouds – especially in Asia. Telcos are also enamored with OpenStack for NFV and 5G rollouts. However, the OSF and its 678 supporting organizations are not content with the status quo – the latest bet being the addition of more projects into the OSF fold, with an eye toward winning at the edge with a set of tools for IoT-related use cases. The challenge for OSF and its Platinum sponsors is to weave an easy-to-use mix of OSF projects and seamless integration with other open source foundation projects for edge computing, rather than offering a confusing mix of software that scares users into the arms of turnkey proprietary alternatives or the hyperscalers.


Against the backdrop of open collaboration, OSF reiterates its role and involvement in making the OpenStack environment easier to use, including accelerating the development of programs to broaden its appeal among community builders, contributors and members. Kata Container and Zuul, which have been the center of focus among open source advocates, are now being confirmed as sponsored projects by OSF, and there is a discernible interest (especially in the telecom sector) in 5G and edge computing. Pilot programs such as Airship and StarlingX are being driven to some extent by competitive pressure among telecom operators around the globe. On the other hand, enterprises are increasingly looking for platforms and tools that boost agility without compromising performance, so there is clear latent demand. Either way, telecom operators appear to be well-advised to get their infrastructures ready now, in view of the inevitable shift of data traffic to the ultra-low-latency 5G network.

Airship project

A collection of open source tools for cloud provisioning and orchestration, Airship is a pilot program supported by over 130 contributors from 17 companies across Asia, Europe and the Americas. Some of the active participants include Ericsson, Cisco, Mirantis, AWCloud, SK Telecom, Fujitsu, 99Coud, Accenture, Inspur, ZTE, SUSE, Red Hat and Charter Communication.

Now in version 1.0, which was released in late April, Airship is touted to have major enhancements in areas of security, resiliency, continuous integration and documentation (for lifecycle management). Looking to the future, the technical roadmap for Airship will delve into areas that leverage Kubernetes cluster APIs, cloud-native workflows and containerized network functions.

Purpose-built for cloud orchestration, Airship 1.0 is powering 5G deployments for a handful of telecom operators that are opting for high reliability, better capacity and coverage, and massive device connectivity. AT&T and China Mobile, which have already made strategic commitments to 5G commercial rollouts, discussed progresses and future direction.

AT&T utilizes Airship to manage its 5G Evolved Packet Core running on top of Network Cloud. In terms of service availability, the company notes that the 5G mobile network is currently accessible in 19 cities across the US, but the plan is to expand its 5G footprint nationwide by early 2020.

Together with key partners such as Ericsson, Huawei, ZTE, Datang, Nokia and Intel, among others, China Mobile has completed 5G field trials in Beijing and Jiangxu, respectively, for system validation and performance testing of new 5G waveforms (e.g., filtered OFDM) and new frequency domains (e.g., sparse code multiple access). The success of the 5G field trials not only represents an important milestone in the commercialization of the 5G mobile network, it also lays the groundwork for a commercial rollout. If everything is on track, China Mobile says a huge production environment in Beijing is expected to come online later this year, and then a full commercial rollout for both locations is slated to be available in 2020.

StarlingX project

Another pilot program that has caught the attention of telecom operators and their supply chains is StarlingX, which came into fruition as providers started pushing mini-datacenters toward the edge for performance and resiliency. It is designed to be a complete cloud infrastructure software stack that combines open source components such as OpenStack, Kubernetes and Ceph with built-in capabilities like resource management and fault management for edge computing. It is well suited for the deployment of highly available industrial IoT, low-latency telecommunications services and high-performance video delivery. Since the release of version 1.0 in October 2018, which supports CentOS, the community has contributed changes to Nova, Neutron and Horizon, with more coming in Train. Accordingly, the next release of StarlingX will be Stein-based with a few critical fixes pulled forward from Train. It will also support multiple operating systems as part of the platform enhancement. As far as real-world use case is concerned, China Unicom discussed early phase deployments and lessons learned with key partners Intel and 99Cloud. It expects to have a complete mobile edge cloud infrastructure put in place by 2025.

Other event highlights

  • Cisco says that its target architecture for Webex, Meraki and AppDynamics is containers running in VMs or bare metal orchestrated by OpenStack.

  • VMware reiterated its support for OpenStack, saying that it is growing its OpenStack engineering team as it looks to win more business, especially in the telco vertical.

  • Red Hat's marketing attention is now on OpenShift, but the company claims there is a high attach rate of its more than 1,000 OpenShift customers and OpenStack for those building out new cloud environments.

  • Canonical announced Ubuntu Advantage for Infrastructure. This is a security and compliance support service that covers Linux, Kubernetes, OpenStack, Ceph and SWIFT security updates used in a private cloud in one package.

  • SUSE introduced OpenStack Cloud v9. Among other features, it offers an upgrade path for companies that were previously using HPE Helion OpenStack.

  • Mirantis says that 50% of its business comes from Western Europe, and is hoping a new partnership with Inspur will help it gain traction in Asia.

  • City Network sold off its hosting business two years ago and now exclusively focuses on OpenStack. It achieved 30% growth YOY and heralds banking as its top vertical.

  • Vexxhost, this summit's SuperUser Award winner, is a Canada-based service provider. It upgraded to the Stein release across its production environment on the first day of the Stein release.

  • Noticeably absent from the Summit Marketplace was Rackspace, one of OpenStack's original founders. It recently announced a new CEO after integrating several acquisitions.