“The demand that I make of my reader is that he should devote his whole Life to reading my works”.

— James Joyce

For those of you who consider yourselves to be “literary masochists”, you are probably not a stranger to the works of James Joyce. From the simply tedious, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, to an allegory on acid, Ulysses, and finally “WTH?”, Finnegan’s Wake, Joyce’s books aren’t exactly page turners. Scholars of Joyce—you know these guys must be fun at parties—will tell you that one of his chief goals as a writer was to expand the limits of English literary style—my marketing guy said that he tried taking the same route with every high school paper he wrote but all he got for his efforts were D’s. He thinks maybe he wasn’t obtuse enough. My point here is that some things in life take a while before they reach a degree of critical mass that makes them accessible to a broad audience. The OpenStack folks seem to going through their own “Joycian” moment right now.

A recent study by 451 Research found that VMWare, Red Hat and Microsoft all offer better total cost of ownership than OpenStack for private cloud deployments. In digging a little further, 451 pinpointed that the cause for this disparity was that people who are qualified to operate OpenStack private clouds demand higher levels of compensation. This doesn’t mean that VMWare, et. al. are the cloud equivalent of a Jackie Collins novel, but it does mean that the OpenStack folks have some educational work to do.

Fortunately, unlike Joyce, whose target audience for his impenetrable tomes was his small group of contemporaries throughout the salons of Europe, OpenStack was developed to be a standard that would proliferate as more and more of us became acquainted with it. Whether that will prove to be the case, however, remains to be seen. Sometimes folks want what they want no matter how much someone tries to tell them otherwise. The current disparities in cost structure between OpenStack and its competitors are a prime example of the marketplace in action. At present, experts in the subject are as prevalent as Joyce scholars—albeit with a higher level of demand—so they are as they say, “getting while the getting is good”.

No one can say how long this relatively small body of OpenStack experts will be able to command a premium for their services. Although I’m sure they would be happy to keep their membership equal to the size of anyone who has actually read even one of Joyce’s books from cover to cover, I think the jury is still out on whether their present level of uniqueness will be a short term thing. Isn’t this really emblematic of the current OpenStack state of development in its entirety? The extent of standards adoption is often difficult to predict. Based on its pedigree and the level of exposure it has received, it seems fair to ask if things shouldn’t be a little further along. I guess things could still go either way. I will say that if the number of OpenStack experts remain equal to the quantity of people who claim to understand Finnegan’s Wake, its TCO isn’t going to be dropping any time soon.

The bottom line is that standard’s are developed to prevent the potential shortages of whatever they have been developed to address. In this case, the talent shortage is impacting the costs of OpenStack implementations. While there are any number of folks in the industry that want to see the universal embrace of OpenStack, the world can be a fickle place where the desires of those who feel they know best can hit the glass ceiling of reality pretty hard. In other words, while the public’s decision on Joyce has largely relegated him to the domain of pretentious faculty lounge lizards, OpenStack seems to reside in a state of purgatory between broad acceptance and entering the Joycian world of standards. Sometimes all the critical praise in the world just isn’t enough. While you will find Joyce’s work on many lists of the “greatest books of all time”, he’s sold a lot fewer books than that gal Jodi Piccault that my wife likes. I guess what this is what it all boils down to: Does the industry want Ulysses or My Sister’s Keeper?

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