Cisco and IBM acquisitions show pressure is on to make OpenStack easier to use

The companies are aiming to speed up rollouts and cut management costs for private clouds

Cisco's intention to buy Piston Cloud Computing and IBM's acquisition of Blue Box Group, both announced this week, are bids to make private cloud platform OpenStack less of a headache for IT departments.

For public, private and hybrid clouds, management capabilities are a vital differentiator and something that becomes even more important as CIOs decide to move large IT systems from traditional on-site installations.

OpenStack has in the last couple of years become the go-to choice for vendors, including IBM and Cisco, that want to offer a private cloud platform. But the software is still maturing and the development of better management capabilities and tools is a key part of that process.

The Cisco and IBM acquisitions are part of the vendors' efforts to speed up OpenStack development.

Blue Box pitches its hosted private cloud as a way to harness the benefits of OpenStack and avoid configuration hassles. Enterprises don't have set it up themselves, make mind-numbing configuration choices or manage hardware blueprints. At the same time, the company says, they get an agile and scalable platform that's backed by a huge community.

For IBM,the Blue Box acquisition will help turbo-charge the company's cloud strategy. Blue Box's technology will become a formational kernel for the IBM Cloud organisation, Jesse Proudman, Blue Box founder and CTO, said in a blog post explaining the rationale behind IBM's acquisition.

Meanwhile, Cisco's target, Piston, has developed CloudOS, which manages clusters of commodity servers as a single pool of resources. The software offers features for quickly deploying OpenStack, and by using automation functionality it promises to free up IT staff from time-consuming management tasks. On average, when using more than 50 nodes, running a private cloud environment using CloudOS with OpenStack costs less than one third the amount required to do the same thing on Amazon Web Services, according to an FAQ on Piston's website.

Cisco declined to discuss specific plans for how it will utilise CloudOS. It did say, however, that Piston's technology will eventually improve the infrastructure that powers its OpenStack Private Cloud.

Whether the IBM and Cisco acquisitions help spur enterprises to implement OpenStack on a larger scale than they have so far remains to be seen. Not everyone is convinced that the market for OpenStack implementations will rapidly pick up anytime soon. OpenStack vendor Nebula, for example, shut down in April, saying: "We are deeply disappointed that the market will likely take another several years to mature."

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