When it comes to public cloud offerings, few vendors can hold a candle to AWS and Microsoft Azure's dominance in the infrastructure as a service (IaaS) space. However, neither have offered much in terms of hybrid/private cloud platforms and tools—until now. OpenStack has long filled this void with its open source cloud computing platform, but Azure Stack's arrival may finally spell an end to its dominance in the category.
Microsoft shops and Azure-based cloud adopters certainly have cause for rejoice, but platform-agnostic technologists are also eyeing Azure Stack with heightened interest. Clearly, Redmond's recent strategic plays into the DevOps and open source space are paying off in spades: Microsoft is currently #1 on GitHub open source, and various offerings such as Visual Studio Team Services and Azure Cloud Switch—its own Linux distro—have rapidly overhauled its public perception from proprietary software giant to arguably the world's deepest pocketed open source supporter. All of this in efforts to wrangle control of the cloud computing market away from AWS, who at this point holds 31 percent to Microsoft's 9 percent.
Taking all this into account, the arrival of Azure Stack makes perfect sense from a strategic standpoint. As mentioned earlier, enterprise private/hybrid cloud needs have mostly been left unaddressed by the leading cloud vendors, despite a large number of organizations still risk averse to full-on cloud adoption or looking to capitalize on cloud economics in-house. Let's take a look how this offering compares to the leading "roll-your-own" cloud platform provider OpenStack.
Microsoft Azure Stack
Currently available as a technical preview, Azure Stack is essentially a platform for running the popular Azure cloud inside the data center. Microsoft’s Hyper-V hypervisor, Windows OS, and Microsoft networking/storage components comprise the inner workings of the platform, with various platform as a service (PaaS) and application offerings deployable on top of this foundation.
The Azure Stack interface. Source: azure.microsoft.com.
Azure Stack's technical preview release is currently available for download on the Azure website as a 10 GB binary. Once the offering goes to general availability (GA), a full range of services will be able for the platform—from compute and data storage to security and developer services, among others.
*Services available once Azure Stack reaches GA. Source: azure.microsoft.com.
OpenStack started in 2010 as a joint effort between Rackspace and NASA to create an open source cloud computing platform available to the general public. Rackspace has since relinquished the project's management to The OpenStack Foundation, a multi-stakeholder organization providing governance and oversight for the project. Members include AT&T, Canonical, HP, IBM, Intel, Rackspace, Red Hat, and SUSE, among others.
The OpenStack UI. Source: openstack.org.
OpenStack consists of the typical cloud computing resources you'd expect in public cloud offerings: compute, storage, and networking resources manageable through a streamlined dashboard or, alternatively—through various APIs for compute, orchestration, object storage, and the like. For trying out OpenStack in a testing or development environment (e.g., on a laptop/desktop, inside a VM hosted in the cloud), users are advised to follow the download directions on openstack.org.
Side-by-Side Scoring: Azure Stack vs. OpenStack
1. Capability Set
Both offerings are feature-laden with platform tools and services for supporting and managing the private/hybrid cloud. Azure Stack essentially mirrors the public Azure cloud offering—true to hybrid form, services can be interchangeably pointed between the public and private cloud. That said, many of its services will be available in its forthcoming GA release. A mature and highly capable cloud software platform, OpenStack's breadth of features have been battle-tested and immediately accessible.
2. Ease of Use
OpenStack has a notoriously steep learning curve—so much so that efforts to implement private clouds with the platform have shuttered startups, in large part due to the vast amount of resources and efforts expended in the process. Microsoft's forte, of course, is developing visual-based management consoles and GUIs for easy administration. And like its public cloud counterpart, Azure Stack is a breeze to learn/set up.
3. Community Support
Both OpenStack and Microsoft Azure command a large following and vast legion of community supporters; that said, keep in mind that Azure Stack is currently in technical preview mode, whereas OpenStack is a mature release—and has been for some time now. As the leading open source cloud infrastructure solution, it trumps Azure Stack in this category.
4. Release Rate
OpenStack publicly states that its development and release cycle duration is around 6-months, with a complete history—including independent releases—available on its website. Azure Stack is not available yet available to the general public as a mature release, but will be available via integrated systems/partners (e.g., as an appliance) in mid-CY2017.
5. Pricing and Support
Back in July, Microsoft announced that the Azure Stack offering would only be available in appliance form through key vendors such as HPE, Dell, and Lenovo—with other OEMs TBD. This means that users wishing to deploy Azure Stack in their own data centers won't be able to simply download and install the platform. Support for the platform will also be handled by the server/appliance vendor.
This about-face from its previous plan to release Azure Stack as a cloud platform installable on users' hardware of choice will make it a costly solution for firms wishing to deploy their own private/hybrid clouds. In contrast, OpenStack remains to this day a free, open source cloud platform, but—as expected—any revenue realized from the offering falls in lap of firms like Mirantis and Rackspace through enterprise-grade support subscriptions.
6. API and Extensibility
Again, a myriad of APIs come standard with OpenStack for launching server instances, creating storage containers and objects, managing orchestration processes, and other OpenStack cloud actions. In parallel with Microsoft Azure's public offering, Azure Stack APIs are fully-realized with a REST-based service management API for custom integration scenarios.
7. 3rd Party Integrations
Microsoft's Azure Marketplace features literally thousands of 3rd party software applications, developer services, web apps, and data services designed to work with both Azure's public cloud and Azure Stack. OpenStack's library of 3rd party integrations is no less impressive—its Marketplace features a plethora of tools and methods for "cloud building" and its Application Catalog offers a myriad of cloud app packages and images.
8. Companies That Use It
Evaluating Azure Stack's performance in this category may be a matter of conjecture, depending on who's asked. Microsoft Azure is one of the most widely used public cloud offerings, but its Azure Stack platform is still in technical preview release—which basically means that, for all intents and purposes, no companies are using it in production environments.
As a mature cloud offering, OpenStack is used by a myriad of global enterprises, Fortune 500s, and leading organizations: Yahoo, Cisco, PayPal, MIT, Harvard, Seagate, Cigna, AT&T, Disney, Intel, American Express, Wells Fargo, and more.
9. Learning Curve
Organizations looking to adopt OpenStack face a steep learning curve and significant internal team structure transformations—the Foundation pulls no punches in regards to this harrowing fact. In contrast, Azure's platform and Azure Stack is easy to deploy and develop on, both in the public cloud and in-house.
Azure Stack's web presence—coupled with azure.microsoft.com scores a competent 846 CSTAR score, but is nonetheless hampered by server header information leakage and lack of HttpOnly Cookies and DNSSEC. As reflected in its 530 CSTAR score, the OpenStack Foundation website shares the same perimeter security flaws as azure.microsoft.com, as well as others like disabled HTTP Strict Transport Security, lack of DMARC and secure cookies, and more (pssst, OpenStack—your domain name expires in 30 days).
Scoreboard and Summary
|Ease of Use|
|Pricing and Support|
|API and Extensibility|
|3rd Party Integrations|
|Companies that Use It|
|Total||4.2 out of 5||4 out of 5|
Despite Microsoft's pivot regarding the nature of Azure Stack's general availability, the platform's much-anticipated 2017 release will nonetheless give organizations access to Azure's power and flexibility from within their own data centers. OpenStack's entrenched cloud platform and technology may be well-positioned for continued success in the short term, but the arrival of Azure Stack will undoubtedly give the Foundation a run for its money, especially given how difficult and complex OpenStack can be to deploy and manage.
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