That’s not to say you can’t just buy OpenStack from a hot young company still defining the market. Much in the way Red Hat came to mean Linux, Mirantis has come to mean OpenStack. And yet, the two companies are now directly competing, each with its own enterprise distribution.

All this competition is great for the enterprise manager who has to make a choice. But even before picking a distribution, the underlying projects that make up OpenStack offer compelling uses on their own. No matter which distribution you choose, your options when it comes to storage, networking and processing are expanding every day with projects like Gluster, Ceph and Quantum, confirming the IT department wins on what was considered young, unproven software only two or three years ago.

Distribution solutions
Though OpenStack is finally available to enterprises with corporate support and updates, it remains a complex beast that brings an entirely new paradigm into the data center. Radhesh Balakrishnan, general manager of virtualization and OpenStack at Red Hat, said that OpenStack is not just a replacement for old systems; it fundamentally rewrites the way a data center runs.

“The reality is, in terms of pure technical scope, the nature of the problem set here is broader by definition,” he said. “The fundamental fabric of the data center is being stitched together in a new way. It’s a function of the scope that you can see some progress. From our perspective, the adoption of OpenStack is going to be tightly tied to cloud computing and the new application architecture itself.”

Adrian Ionel, CEO of Mirantis, said that while OpenStack changes how the data center runs, it isn’t entirely different from existing large enterprise software products in that it’s a big project to install, run and configure the platform, just as it is to install an ERP or new database layer. That’s not to say, however, that OpenStack hasn’t made things easier.

“OpenStack has come a very, very long way,” said Ionel. “The power of OpenStack is, at the same time, the curse of OpenStack. The power is that it’s incredibly flexible, so you can tailor it in many different ways. That requires a tremendous level of expertise in terms of what knobs to turn. It’s extremely configurable; it has hundreds and hundreds of configuration settings. Only some of them are resolved in robust production-grade deployments.”

As a result, OpenStack anything will be complicated. There’s no such thing as a one-click deployment, said Ionel, though he did point out that Mirantis offers a simple, graphical installer for OpenStack. The result of this complexity is that distributions aren’t necessarily to be judged by their pretty installers alone.

Imad Sousou is vice president of the Software and Services Group at Intel and general manager of the Intel Open Source Technology Center. He is also a gold-level director of the OpenStack Foundation. He said that OpenStack “has improved tremendously from a couple years ago. Two things happened at the same time: One is the maturity of OpenStack itself, but the second part is you have reasonably good distributions now.

“OpenStack is still a work in progress, and I think the areas of deployability and support and things like that, right now, are still evolving,” said Sousou. “I think it’s still [difficult] unless you have decent and strong engineering resources to actually deploy it and maintain it and so on. A year ago, it wasn’t possible to deploy without those type of resources.”