OpenStack: Even the NSA Is on Board

The battle of cloud computing platforms continues and OpenStack vendors are celebrating another win for their platform. The National Security Agency (NSA) announced at the Portland OpenStack Summit that it is successfully using OpenStack technology. Surely, if the U.S. intelligence agency puts its data on OpenStack, skeptics can breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Even though OpenStack has been lauded as efficient, flexible and scalable, NSA’s decision to use OpenStack was a cautious one. It first started with a free tier system for employees to test that had auto-account creation and was self-service. NSA used Puppet, Kickstart and other tools to facilitate installation and provisioning. The goal for the intelligence agency was similar to that of other corporations: unifying data while working with different systems, including legacy infrastructure.

With Freedom Comes Flexibility

In addition to employees being able to help themselves to the cloud computing platform, NSA’s OpenStack deployment gives them the flexibility to choose their platform, never getting locked into a proprietary vendor. The source code, which is Apache licensed, further provides compatibility with thousands of existing public and private clouds, allowing users to transition from cloud to cloud.

NSA’s quest for scalability needed to be achieved while maintaining its security. NSA designed an in-house, secure, closedown OpenStack system. Meanwhile, other cloud computing platform options include using multiple cloud providers under one service agreement. The challenge is hopping between providers to maximize performance and costs. NSA successfully solved this problem while maintaining platform flexibility.

Industry Collaboration

It’s the OpenStack team effort that eliminates the problem of cloud lock-in. The highly competitive platform vendor industry has banded together to create transparency and compatibility. Now enterprises can roam wherever they need, without compromising their cloud platform. The OpenStack Foundation has ballooned to 150 industry vendors and just this month released the beta version of its Activity Board, which provides a visual overview of all OpenStack public activity. The foundation requires participants to adhere to specific rules:

  • Abide by Apache licensing
  • Support all available hypervisors
  • Implement REST APIs and open image format
  • Commit to drive and adopt open standards
  • Participate in the OpenStack Summit twice a year for open design collaboration

Another reason OpenStack is gaining traction is that it allows for scalability with lots of storage—we’re talking petabytes. This gives users strength in working with data, virtual machine images, photo storage, email storage and backup archiving. The platform’s elements include OpenStack Object Storage, an object store, OpenStack Compute, a scalable compute provisioning engine and OpenStack Image Service, an image registry and delivery service. The all-important component of a scalable infrastructure is that it’s reinforced for failure, so if a node fails, the distributed environment keeps running, offloading the work elsewhere in the system.

Cloud platforms are continuously evolving and OpenStack is no exception. The different OpenStack adaptations include the newest version, Grizzly, as well as older versions Piston and Folsom. With technology innovators meeting for an open design process every six months, the industry could very well see more corporations and agencies of NSA caliber taking the OpenStack plunge.

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