Last March, the OpenStack Foundation gained the support of one of the largest Web hosting providers in the world. GoDaddy, known for its loyal following of small business customers, joined the OpenStack community to create its first internal cloud platform.

While the official sponsorship of the foundation is relatively fresh, GoDaddy’s introduction to this open source community began more than a year ago when it needed a private cloud platform to help serve its 12 million users. This continued an increased interest in open source that started with other organizations including WordPress, CentOS and others.

GoDaddy, while often associated with its 57 million domains, supports approximately 8.5 million websites across more than 37,000 servers globally. The company maintains an unwavering dedication to its small business customers, providing them the online tools they need to be successful. This includes shared hosting, virtual private servers, dedicated servers and domain registration, email, website development and support, eCommerce design services and logo designs.

“One of the greatest things about GoDaddy is its focus on small businesses,” said Ryan Burkhardt, vice president of engineering for GoDaddy’s cloud platform. “Small businesses know that if they want to be found they need a great Web presence. We pride ourselves on being able to provide the best products possible for the best possible price so our small business customers can be successful. OpenStack plays right into that wheelhouse."

Need for Speed and Scale

GoDaddy needed a cloud platform that would keep up with rapid growth. The cloud platform had to be scalable, flexible and agile - much like its small business customers.

“The challenge was really the lack of choices when deciding on holistic cloud platform solutions,” Burkhardt said. “There are many great open and proprietary solutions that solve specific problems for what you need when providing a cloud platform – compute, storage, etc. But when you look at our scale and ongoing growth of our services, juggling multiple solutions or locking ourselves into one proprietary solution wouldn’t be the best choice. It would be more limiting and expensive over time. OpenStack provides a broad collection of key services with great community and multiple vendor support. It is the best long term choice.”

The speed at which GoDaddy had to scale to meet customer demands and provision resources quickly for developers could only be matched by open source solutions. Burkhardt’s team needed to provide GoDaddy’s engineers with fast resources to introduce new solutions to customers in a matter of days, weeks was not an option.

“We needed to scale quickly, but do it smart and clean. It was important for us to be able to add more machines to a site quickly, and scale to meet demand,” he said.

GoDaddy based its selection criteria for an open source solution on a series of criteria, including:

  • Initial implementation costs
  • Manpower and server requirements
  • Cost per compute
  • Cost per storage
  • Solution maturity and longevity
  • A good portion of this last consideration included close evaluation of the OpenStack community which is very robust.

The team used these criteria in conducting dozens of experimentations, including standing up their instances in the clouds and evaluating third-party solutions. A history with OpenStack at the senior executive level - including CTO Elissa Murphy and Vice President of Engineering Charles Beadnall also helped ease any potential technical considerations about moving to an open source solution.

“In narrowing down the selection, the drum we kept beating was the ability to scale,” Burkhardt said. “And for us, OpenStack really won on two things: its ability to scale and its community. We saw OpenStack as an accelerant to reach a place where we can grow our cloud and quickly scale for 12 million customers with less investment. Due diligence with all the options out there proved OpenStack was the right choice.”

Rubber Meets the Road

GoDaddy kicked off its private cloud program by first building out its internal instances. This gave developers and engineers an environment to experiment with the software and begin redesigning their applications for the cloud.

They started with Anvil to manage the installation, then Nova for compute functions, Neutron for networking support, and Keystone for authentication. The GoDaddy team has since rounded out with a Horizon dashboard for administration and Glance for image management of both Linux and Windows images. Plans are in place for future work on Cinder for storage. There’s also a plan to invest in Nova to start pushing the system to support more granular scale units.

As more people began working in the new development environment, Burkhardt said the team witnessed more enthusiasm and greater participation across the company. “We received an email from an engineer on one of our teams who said he was amazed to see what was possible with the OpenStack solution. He was no longer experiencing the pain of acquiring a machine and having it correctly configured to test an idea.”

Now developers can spin up a VM in less than a minute as a production server to test a new product and deliver it to customers within days. Seeing that level of agility and excitement from engineers so quickly after installation helps validate the decision to go with OpenStack.

“It really made it feel like we were meeting our goals and achieving the results we expected from OpenStack,” Burkhardt said.

This month GoDaddy shipped their first production service on the OpenStack platform. Plans are in place to implement OpenStack as the underlying infrastructure for shared, Virtual and Dedicated hosting over the next 18 months for existing shared hosting and virtual private server customers.

“GoDaddy is continuing to shift business operations to the cloud and is using open source platforms to do it,” said GoDaddy CTO Elissa Murphy. “With the launch of the GoDaddy cloud platform, we’re making significant progress in building a powerful and unified cloud and data platform to power applications for our small business customers. We are building an amazing team that deeply understands distributed systems, with leaders from Amazon, Microsoft, MIT, and Yahoo, to do it.”

Building an investment in the OpenStack Community

As GoDaddy continues to build out its cloud infrastructure with OpenStack, it will rely heavily on the community. GoDaddy engineers and developers made several code contributions to Anvil, Neutron and Keystone with plans to become more involved in those categories, as well as the Linux Container-related field.

Participation in the open source community is especially important to Burkhardt and others because it played such a critical component in their decision to choose OpenStack.

With leaders and organizations investing from so many different sectors and environments, Burkhardt believes the path to better ides and more innovation would be faster than through a single, major vendor.

“We benefit from a community that helps us quickly get to a cloud solution that scales broadly and provides the levels of reliability and availability we need without having to design everything ourselves,” he said. “The community makes it easier for us to use OpenStack to build out the large scale distributed system that our customers need.”

Image credit: "Just breathe" by Katie Tegtmeyer