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Explaining OpenStack With Wacky Analogies

Mitch Wagner

BARCELONA -- OpenStack Summit -- Explaining OpenStack is like explaining an elephant to someone who's never seen one. The right analogy can help shed light on a confusing and unfamiliar topic.

And OpenStack needs to be explained. It's still new -- just six years old. Many people haven't heard of it and many who have heard of it have only a vague idea what it is. The right analogy can cut through the confusion when dealing with the CFO, colleagues, interns and friends and family.

Sadly, the wrong analogy just compounds problems.

At a panel titled "From Venti Lattes to Valet Parking: Wacky Analogies to Explain OpenStack," participants shared their wackiest OpenStack analogies. Some highlights and flops:

OpenStack is like GrubHub
Discussion started by comparing OpenStack to GrubHub. "OpenStack is the GrubHub of technology," said Tyler Britten, a technical advocate at the Office of the CTO at IBM Blue Box. With GrubHub, you can order food from a number of restaurants, and GrubHub deals with the individual restaurants to get your food to you.

Your application portability is here.
Your application portability is here.

Likewise, with OpenStack, you can deal with a number of different hypervisors -- KVM, VMware, Xen, HyperV, and so on. An application connects to OpenStack using APIs, and OpenStack connects to the cloud platform. "Same way that if I use GrubHub to order ribs, I don't have to call the restaurant," Britten says.

With GrubHub, consumers get a greater variety of foods as more restaurants come online, noted Shamail Tahir, offering manager for OpenStack Initiatives at IBM. Similarly, new services become available to OpenStack users as they come online with OpenStack.

Great analogy.

OpenStack is like coffee
The different ways of consuming OpenStack are like the different ways to consume coffee, Heidi Joy Tretheway, senior marketing manager for the OpenStack Foundation, said.


A managed cloud is like Starbucks. At Starbucks you can make a hairy complicated order -- triple venti half sweet non-fat caramel macchiato -- and get exactly what you want, Tretheway said.

A commercial distro, like Red Hat, Mirantis, or Canonical, is like using a Keurig coffee maker. You have a limited set of choices, but they're nicely packaged for you, Tretheway said.

Or you can download the source directly from the OpenStack Foundation, which is like becoming a coffee gourmet who roasts and grinds their own beans. It's a lot more work, but you get it just the way you like it.

This started out as a good analogy, but it fell down at the end. It fails to explain why everybody doesn't just go to Starbucks all the time. Starbucks sounds perfect, based on Tretheway's description.

If you're an open source advocate or a coffee snob you're really angry at me now. Leave a comment below to vent.

The 'Big Tent' is like a farmers' market
Not a great metaphor. I didn't know what the Big Tent was going in, I still don't. I need to look into that. The farmers' market analogy didn't help.

Next page: Office space

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