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Evaluate vSphere vs. OpenStack for your organization

VMware vSphere offers extensive virtualization, while open source OpenStack provides comprehensive cloud building tools. Understand their differences before choosing one.

VMware vSphere and open source project OpenStack present two different ways of structuring an infrastructure. In the vSphere vs. OpenStack debate, choosing the right infrastructure for your organization's data center comes down to your staff's expertise, your existing infrastructure requirements, your storage setup and whether you can compromise with vSphere Integrated OpenStack.

VSphere is the predominant virtualization software. It encompasses VMware's server virtualization product suite, including its ESXi hypervisor, vCenter Server, an HTML5-based management interface and other popular virtualization components.

OpenStack is a collection of open source software, providing a cloud framework that enables you to create and manage both public and private cloud infrastructures. Although you can build a cloud computing environment off of a VMware vSphere infrastructure, OpenStack forms a cloud OS that can organize, provision and manage large resource pools. It also comes with many compute, storage, networking, content delivery, security and analytics resources.

To decide between vSphere vs. OpenStack, you must decide whether your organization needs a primarily cloud or virtualized environment, compare vSphere and OpenStack features and capabilities and evaluate the long-term cost of committing to each.

The cloud vs. virtualization debate

To decide between using cloud infrastructure or virtualized infrastructure, first consider the infrastructure your organization already runs. Identify the costs that could arise as a result of altering or exchanging infrastructure styles and consider the expertise of your IT staff.

If you already use VMware, consider extending a VMware facility to support cloud bursting, which creates business continuity and protects your VMware investment while also enabling you to take advantage of the cloud. However, you must understand how to incorporate cloud automation into your IT processes before attempting to introduce cloud bursting.

Many have implemented VMware Integrated OpenStack to get the best of both vSphere and OpenStack. VIO is an OpenStack distribution for companies that want to deploy and manage an OpenStack private cloud atop an existing vSphere infrastructure.

Public cloud prices have also dropped since public cloud first hit the market. Still, you must weigh the cost difference of paying for a monthly cloud subscription versus an upfront fixed-cost purchase of hardware.

VSphere, OpenStack and containers

VMware was late to introduce cloud products compared to other vendors -- specifically, OpenStack, its competitor in private cloud deployments. OpenStack sandboxes are common and easy to deploy; however, OpenStack has struggled with managing scale, user friendliness and feature completeness.

Containers have represented a struggle for many vendors, including OpenStack and VMware. The OpenStack community has developed several service modules to run container instances on OpenStack. Certain releases of the platform, such as 2017's Ocata release, include container management services that enable you to run container orchestrators such as Apache Mesos, Docker and Kubernetes.

In 2019, VMware introduced its Project Pacific initiative to build Kubernetes and container management capabilities natively into vSphere. Earlier initiatives, such as Pivotal Container Service, also focused on incorporating Kubernetes support into vSphere and aimed to simplify Kubernetes deployment and management.

Storage differences between vSphere vs. OpenStack

A major difference between vSphere and OpenStack is how each handles storage, backup and disaster recovery.

VSphere maps storage to ESXi, where each ESXi host accesses its storage through a logical unit number mapped to a data store. This approach includes a degree of storage management automation, and you can rebalance VMs across a vSphere cluster based on storage capacity and I/O. You can use a number of APIs to enable your hypervisor to direct storage and manage VMs more effectively.

OpenStack environments, on the other hand, require persistent block storage. This approach requires external storage that supports OpenStack's Cinder API. However, OpenStack does have the direct object storage that VMware vSphere lacks.

With OpenStack, you save on storage infrastructure costs, but it can increase management costs. The reverse is true with vSphere. Consider your organization's priorities and resource allocation when you think about the storage requirements of vSphere vs. OpenStack.

Compromising with VMware Integrated OpenStack

Many have implemented VMware Integrated OpenStack (VIO) to get the best of both vSphere and OpenStack. VIO is an OpenStack distribution for companies that want to deploy and manage an OpenStack private cloud atop an existing vSphere infrastructure. It provides developers with OpenStack APIs that can access a VMware virtualized infrastructure and has been tested and supported by VMware.

IT managers and experts have praised VIO for combining the maturity of a VMware environment with the agility of OpenStack. It has utilities that can automate patching and upgrading, and it offers critical VMware products, including vSphere, NSX and VSAN, through OpenStack APIs. Most importantly, it eliminates the requirement to have separate platforms for older, legacy applications that remain critical to an organization and for newer, more modern applications.

However, VIO features can be expensive. You can gain access to VIO with a vSphere Enterprise Plus license, but it doesn't include support. VIO support is purchased on a per-CPU basis. Newer versions of VIO with more support features are more expensive than older versions without such updates.

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I would encourage anyone interested in OpenStack to check out https://www.openstack.org/software/, and also the Ironic bare metal provisioning project, https://wiki.openstack.org/wiki/Ironic.

Some of the largest deployments choose OpenStack because of its support for both VM and bare metal compute types, including both legacy (monolithic) apps and cloud-native environments with containers orchestrated by Kubernetes. The open infrastructure community is welcoming and happy to answer your questions. https://www.openstack.org/community/ 
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