The Guardian goes all-in on AWS public cloud after OpenStack 'disaster’

The Guardian has revealed that it is moving all its infrastructure to Amazon Web Services’ public cloud, after a project to deploy the open source platform OpenStack in its own data centres was aborted.

“Two or three years ago, before we were ready to move to AWS, we had to refresh the hardware in our data centres,” said Graham Tackley, director of architecture at The Guardian, speaking at the AWS Summit in London today.

“We decided to build our own private cloud based on OpenStack. I would say it was a complete and total disaster. We invested a huge amount of effort.”

The Guardian initiated the project in 2012, when its existing data centre infrastructure was nearing 'end of life' and reaching full capacity. The project involved creating a private cloud built on Cisco’s UCS servers and NetApp storage, running the Ubuntu operating system and OpenStack management and orchestration software.

Writing for The Guardian's website in 2013, senior systems integrator, Stephen Gran, said OpenStack was chosen for the “best mix of features and developer mindshare”.

“It has an EC2 API that is complete enough for our use cases, and offers an awful lot of flexibility in the native API and in deployment strategies,” he said.

However, speaking today at AWS customer event, Tackley said that the OpenStack-based cloud was unable to match the functionality that the AWS public cloud offered.

“We didn't manage to deliver self-service, we didn't manage to deliver decent load-balancing or autoscaling and actually all the benefits we get from AWS we simply did not get inside of the cloud that we were building internally,” he continued.

“We invested huge amounts of effort in that and that is a lot of the reason why, in the last year, we decided to let Amazon do the hard work.”

He added that The Guardian now uses AWS "extensively" across its digital portfolio. "In fact we are closing down all of the stuff we have remaining in our data centres and moving them to AWS as well," he said.

OpenStack challenges

OpenStack has been notoriously difficult for companies to deploy, without relying on huge engineering teams.

However, many proponents of the open source cloud management software say that such failed projects are becoming less common. This is largely due to both a more mature set of product components and a growing awareness of the difficulties encountered in setting up an OpenStack environment.

Interestingly, another customer speaking as part of the AWS customer panel revealed that they are now creating an OpenStack private cloud, having previously hosted almost all systems on AWS.

British Gas Connected Homes - which offers services such as the home monitoring tool, Hive - was set up independently from the main British Gas operations. This offered the business unit a ‘greenfield’ approach to creating its infrastructure, resulting in wide adoption of public cloud resources.

However, Christopher Livermore, head of operations at British Gas Connected Homes, said that it is now investing in an OpenStack cloud, as it seeks to address regulatory concerns.

“We have some data that, because of regulatory requirements, we are not able to put in the Amazon cloud at the moment,” he said.

“There is work in progress to break down those barriers, but in order to get the project off the ground we have had to host it on physical tin.

He added: “We have decided to use OpenStack and those kind of technologies to allow us to run that physical data centre very much like an Amazon data centre. That is how our development teams work, that is how the company works - we are very agile, the dev teams are used to being able to spin up infrastructure on demand, to scale on demand.”

However, Livermore was not entirely positive about the prospective of moving workloads back on-premise.

“Amazon is really the only infrastructure provider that fits in with our way of working. When we do have to go back to physical tin there is a lot of frustration around the lead times and how it is perceived to slow everything down,” he added.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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