OpenStack users: We need more experienced staff

Some companies are telling universities not to send them interns without OpenStack experience

Paradoxically for a platform intended to automate cloud service deployment, a major obstacle to wider adoption of OpenStack is a lack of qualified staff, speakers and attendees at the OpenStack Summit in Paris said Monday.

OpenStack, open-source software for building and managing public and private clouds, is gaining a following at network operators including Comcast and Time Warner Cable, and is used by platforms including PayPal and Wells Fargo. Even automotive manufacturers such as BMW are kicking its tires.

But although it takes relatively few staff to run an OpenStack installation, finding staff with the skills to build it or to set it up is proving hard to find for some.

"It's a big issue with OpenStack: I need to hire people to build it," said Mark Muehl, a senior vice president at Comcast.

Some companies are trying to increase the pool of candidates with the necessary skills by sending a none-too-veiled message to the academic institutions they work with.

"In the absence of a formal program, we have just told the University of Southern California, 'Stop sending us software interns who don't have OpenStack experience,'" said Guillaume Aubuchon, CTO of DigitalFilm Tree, a Los Angeles company that offers, among other things, cloud-based video processing services. "We're here hiring," he added.

Working with educational institutions is key for Intel too, said Ruchi Bhargava, the company's Hybrid Cloud Program Owner: "Wherever we have development teams, we have partnered with universities."

But she wants to start the OpenStack education process far earlier. "Starting from high school, we plan to host hackathons for OpenStack," she said.

The lack of formal OpenStack training in most universities means developers will often arrive without the necessary knowledge, so companies are adopting a do-it-yourself approach to training.

Alterway, a French hosting and cloud management company, finds that relatively easy as it also offers training courses, said Stéphane Vincent, the company's innovation director. His company is hiring too, and he estimates that in France alone there could be hundreds of vacancies for those with OpenStack skills.

Others, like Mats Karlsson, vice president of networking and implementation architecture at Ericsson, are more laissez-faire in their approach to training: "A good idea is to give new developers a lot of spare time to sit and read the OpenStack code."

That's only possible because OpenStack is open source -- something that confers other advantages too, according to Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin. It means companies can focus their developers' efforts on the code that's essential to them, reusing code developed elsewhere for the rest, he said in a presentation on managing external R&D.

"There is too much software to be written for any one organization to write it on its own," he said. "Many businesses are moving to a sort of Pareto principle of software development where 80 percent of the software is open source. They are concentrating on developing the differentiators," he said.

OpenStack's developers have been accused of spending too much time developing new features, and not enough on core stability, but the users on stage at the OpenStack Summit wanted still more features, including support for federated identity across public and private clouds, tools to simplify the simultaneous launch of thousands of virtual machines in high-performance computing environments, and the ability to perform upgrades without downtime for clients.

With a to-do list like that, even if more developers flock to OpenStack, it seems there will be plenty of work for some time to come.

Peter Sayer covers general technology breaking news for IDG News Service, with a special interest in open source software and related European intellectual property legislation. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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