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How OpenStack Helped Oak Ridge National Laboratory Centralize Workloads

The below is an excerpt from GovLoop’s latest industry perspective on open source. To read the full thing, head here.

Much has been made of how cloud computing cuts IT costs, helps systems operate more efficiently, and increases agility. But what about its role in scientific efforts? Can the cloud help scientists and researchers?

Recent developments at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) point to yes. At Oak Ridge — a lab within the Department of Energy — scientists work on an incredibly diverse portfolio, ranging from nuclear security to material research. Its services are extremely customer-centric and tailored to individual needs – wonderful for the consumer, but tough for the lab because they create hard-to-manage silos of IT. To address this, ORNL pushed toward cloud as a way to centralize workloads.

“Our lab decided to try out OpenStack — an open source cloud infrastructure with a modular architecture that is designed to easily scale out,” said Jason Kincl, Systems Administrator at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). To execute this change, ORNL faced three challenges: understanding and deploying an OpenStack-based cloud; designing a hardware vendor-agnostic cloud; and integrating open source into a customized environment. Below, we’ll walk through how ORNL — with the help of Red Hat — successfully navigated these concerns.

» Understanding and deploying OpenStack-based cloud. “This was a massive project with lots of different moving parts,” Kincl said. OpenStack is a huge, vibrant community comprised of participants with varying focuses and motivations. Therefore, being able to review and evaluate OpenStack without making any initial financial investment was critical. To get a better feel for the environment, ORNL turned to Red Hat for expertise. Customers are often reluctant to speak with salespeople, wary of their reputation for being duplicitous, but “culturally, we’re not like that at Red Hat,” Egts said. “We’re much more consultative. Customers can speak with a solutions architect to find the right set of options, as we did with ORNL.”

Red Hat helped amplify ORNL’s voice in the community, encouraging users to test the system and identify areas of improvement. This widespread adoption provided long-term supportability.

» Designing a hardware vendor-agnostic cloud. “With different silos of IT that must support a wide range of hardware, it was necessary that ORNL’s cloud solution was not tied to one specific vendor,” Kincl said. Deploying a cloud solution that met scientists’ diverse and demanding needs on varying domains and systems was a significant challenge.

“With open source, however, vendors have to deliver value or risk being replaced,” Egts said. Red Hat’s OpenStack Cloud Infrastructure Partner Network helps deliver this value. It creates an ecosystem for various partners to generate competitive and customer insights, using Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform. With critical industry perspective and OpenStack expertise from Red Hat and the partner network, ORNL was able to craft a solution to meet its needs that did not require it to be tied to a specific vendor.

» Integrating open source into a customized environment. “Integrating the solution with the existing lab infrastructure that scientists depend on was key,” Kincl said. Open source enables customization, letting you see the inner workings, make improvements and tailor the software to your environment. Red Hat helped ORNL work through this process, ensuring it wasn’t developing another piece of soon-to-be siloed IT. “Red Hat will take a solution, harden it and turn it into a commercialized product,” Egts said. “Every piece of hardware or software Red Hat certifies, whatever we support, we can back up.”

However, the implementation process was not without its challenges. Culture and resistance to change were difficult to overcome. But Kincl said that despite reservations, agency leaders must adopt an “adapt or die” mentality. For organizations such as ORNL, “this was a change that was necessary for its success in the long-term,” Kincl said. “Failing to act due to fear of the unknown would have been very costly.”

This is an excerpt from our latest industry perspective. To learn how OpenStack can help government overcome some of its biggest challenges, we sat down with David Egts, Chief Technologist of Public Sector at Red Hat, the world’s leading provider of open source solutions, and Jason Kincl, Systems Administrator at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), to produce this GovLoop Industry Perspective. Read on for further benefits of open source and OpenStack technology, especially as it relates to cloud implementation; a case study from ORNL on adapting OpenStack; how industry partners can help you best implement open source technology; and best practices on using OpenStack and open source at your agency.

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