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UKCloud Pushes VMware Aside to Make Room for OpenStack

Mitch Wagner
10/24/2016
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UKCloud, a British cloud provider serving public sector customers, built its business on VMware, but it sees OpenStack as strategic to its future.

UKCloud is a five-year-old privately held company focused exclusively on delivering public cloud services to the UK public sector, including local and central government, healthcare and emergency services. "Outside of that remit, we've got no interest in exploring the usual big financial and pharmaceutical companies, because that would dilute our focus," Stephen Dixon, product manager at UKCloud, tells Light Reading. The focus enables UKCloud to build expertise in the security, compliance and regulatory requirements of public sector enterprises, and build a successful business -- with target revenue of 40 million (about US$49 million) by year-end 2016/17 -- despite a relatively small size, only 150 employees.

It's a good business for UKCloud to be in, as the UK has mandated a cloud-first policy for IT deployments. "Any application should be developed for the cloud first and foremost," Dixon says; non-cloud applications are permitted, but only in special circumstances.

At first, UKCloud found VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW)'s vSphere and vCloud Director a great fit for its local and national government customers. Those customers were new to the cloud, and the VMware products enabled users to virtualize existing applications and move them to the cloud. But in the past year and a half or so, UK government enterprises wanted more.

"They realize that lifting and shifting legacy estates to someone else's data center isn't leveraging the power of the cloud," Dixon says.

Moreover, vendor lock-in was an issue where implementing VMware was concerned. "We said we were the easy to adopt, easy to use, easy to leave company, but we weren't fulfilling our remit on 'easy to leave,'" Dixon says. Reliance on VMware made it more difficult for UKCloud's customers to take workloads elsewhere.

In looking for an open source cloud platform, OpenStack was the only option, Dixon says.

In addition to openness, it's easier for enterprises to find staff skilled in OpenStack. "What the pubic sector was finding was that it was getting harder and harder to find developers who understood VMware," Dixon says. VMware is seen as legacy technology; talent understands OpenStack and DevOps.

Also, OpenStack provides a bridge between public cloud such as Amazon Web Services Inc. and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) Azure.

VMware sees the OpenStack threat and isn't standing still. It is implementing OpenStack APIs, and lets cloud operators deploy OpenStack on VMware infrastructure. It also has more than 30 engineers contributing to OpenStack. (See VMware Ships OpenStack 3 With 'Mitaka' Support.)

UKCloud has a total cloud footprint of 12,000 virtual machines. Of these, 200 instances are OpenStack. UKCloud is at an early stage in its OpenStack journey, only three months in, but the installation is growing at 3-5% per month, and the company hopes its OpenStack footprint will be as big as VMware's over the next 12-18 months.

Choosing OpenStack was just the beginning for UKCloud. "Selecting OpenStack is the first bit of a long journey," Dixon says. A cloud operator must then decide whether to roll their own OpenStack or find a vendor partner. "Because we were new to OpenStack we felt it would be a little too maverick to say we were building it ourselves," Dixon says. The company looked for a partner with extensive OpenStack experience. "We wanted to be sure we were standing on the shoulders of giants," he says. UKCloud also wanted a vendor partner to help with issues such as security and vulnerabilities.

The choices for OpenStack were Red Hat Inc. (NYSE: RHT) or Mirantis Inc. UKCloud tapped Red Hat for its technology and because they had a positive relationship with the company. The two companies unveiled their partnership in an announcement at OpenStack Summit in Barcelona today.

UKCloud is getting active in the OpenStack community, sponsoring the OpenStack Foundation.


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But implementing OpenStack is not without its bumps and bruises, says Dixon. For starters, "production ready" doesn't always mean production ready. "When the foundation says something is production ready, take that with a big grain of salt," Dixon says. For example, UKCloud has been exploring implementing load balancing as a service through the recent, latest Newton OpenStack release, and database-as-a-service through Trove, and finds it takes considerable work, partnered with Red Hat, to get it done. (See OpenStack 'Newton' Unites Infrastructure.)

Similarly: "When something is billed as one-click deployment and one-click upgrade, you can't underestimate the amount of testing that's needed for it to be true," Dixon says. "OpenStack is not one platform; it's a collection of projects, and you have to be sure that when upgrading one project you don't break the entire platform," Dixon says.

However, Newton is better than its predecessors on automation and live upgrades. "They are getting better and more slick as the releases comes out," Dixon says. "The foundation is invested in improving automation and seamless upgrades, and is delivering on that promise."

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— Mitch Wagner, Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor, Light Reading Enterprise Cloud

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