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OpenStack: Driving The Software-Defined Economy

You've probably heard the saying, "May you live in interesting times." The quote is wrongly attributed as a translation of a Chinese wish for bad luck, but it certainly applies to all of us in information technology right now.

In this hyper-competitive and fast-paced environment, established companies face disruption from multiple, smaller, and more agile competitors. In fact, it doesn't really matter what the industry is; examples are all around us.

The financial services industry faces new, upstart payment options from companies like Stripe, PayPal, Square and Bitcoin. Or, consider media and entertainment. They have to fight for attention against social media gaming, companies like Netflix and with user-generated content on YouTube.

Then there's the automotive industry. You'd think they'd be hard to disrupt. The capital barriers are immense. Still, companies like Tesla are really shaking things up, so much so that established players are adapting their strategies in response.

The common denominator to all this change is that software is disrupting established industries by creating new distribution models, bringing products to market faster and responding better to customer demand. We at the OpenStack Foundation call it the software-defined economy.

No, we don't need another "software-defined" buzzword. But it actually comes down to some simple concepts. The software-defined economy simply describes today's environment, where change is easier than ever and where people move faster than ever. You can sum it up in one word: choice.

People have choice like never before. Customers, internal users, IT departments all enjoy myriad choices to achieve business objectives. Choice is the foundation of free markets, and in this case, all that choice is being driven by software.

Contrast this new reality with the way we used to do things. Let's call it "passive consumption." We bought what our vendors sold us, we upgraded when they told us to upgrade, signed on to multi-year product cycles, and we even changed our internal processes to fit the proprietary software they built. It worked for a while. But choice, driven by software, has changed everything, and there's no going back.

In this new model, software development has shifted from long release cycles to iterative, frequent release cycles that respond to customer needs and competitive realities. This new agility even causes us to rethink the traditional definition of a release. 

No one passively takes what they're offered anymore. The central planning committee is dead. The business no longer accepts force-fed technology.

The developers and users of OpenStack are at the forefront of defining open cloud technologies that power the software-defined economy. The cloud revolution we are a part of presents the challenges and opportunities of a new generation in IT. This is our biggest opportunity to have a massive impact directly on our businesses.

At its most basic level, OpenStack is a set of open-source software tools for building clouds. The code that comes out of the OpenStack community is used to deploy compute, storage and networking resources in a data center. OpenStack automates the provisioning and management of those resources. It provides an interface and an API. Users can take control of their application infrastructure environment and manage those resources faster and with greater agility.

Some of the most engaged developers in our community such as Disney, Intel, BBVA, SAP are very forthcoming about how they're using OpenStack to change the way they run their business. One of these users is Glenn Ferguson from Wells Fargo. Glenn says that OpenStack draws a line of choice in the data center, letting his team decide what technologies to deploy based on vendor relationships, cost, security, agility or speed -- whatever the business requirements dictate.

In the old IT model, you probably have heard the aphorism, "Good, fast and cheap: choose two." In the new model, all you hear is "fast, fast and fast."

Software developers want resources fast. They don't want to fill out tickets and wait for IT to respond. Cloud has set this expectation, and we in IT should not fall victim to what I call the Gilligan's Island Trap, which I learned about from another OpenStack user, Chris Launey of the Walt Disney Company.

Chris spoke about transforming IT teams so they could have a bigger impact on our businesses and showed a list of what looked like a group of random objects: a lie detector, a Geiger counter, jetpack fuel. He asked what these items have in common; turns out they were all things the Professor invented on Gilligan's Island, rather than simply plugging two holes in a boat.

Chris's point is that it's easy to get distracted by shiny objects and forget about the simpler solutions that can more quickly achieve the goal.

And that's precisely what OpenStack is all about. Thousands of contributors to the OpenStack community are focused on building a project that gives IT departments the tools to build simpler solutions with open-source technologies that unlock the talents of their developers and set their companies on a path to greater agility and sustainable competitiveness.

That's why OpenStack is the tool companies are picking up as they build a new set of infrastructure for the software-defined economy.