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Paypal struggles free of VMware lock-in, goes with OpenStack

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Paypal is floating thousands of its servers on open-source OpenStack and sidelining VMware to become faster than smaller competitors at building payment apps for the cloud.

eBay’s payment arm hopes for tens of thousands of nodes – half its current total - running on OpenStack by the summer. Paypal is understood to be replacing the hardware that ran VMware as part of a refresh and consolidation.

The new OpenStack-ready hardware will run the web tier and middle tier of payment and other public-facing apps from Paypal initially, but if the OpenStack deployment is judged to be a success, and proved reliable, then it’s understood Paypal will float the remaining database tier of its apps too.

PayPal has switched before it became irretrievably committed to VMware - avoiding the dreaded lock-in - and picked a platform that’s considered more open.

OpenStack, a kind of Linux-for-the-cloud, contains APIs for compute, storage, networking and management all under an Apache license.

PayPal’s rolling out OpenStack using a set of pre-integrated and polished APIs called FUEL from Mirantis, which claims 40 successful OpenStack deployments. FUEL wraps the basic OpenStack APIs with deployment scripts and other APIs and code from Mirantis to make it easier to install, manage and scale than the basic OpenStack code.

Mirantis chief executive and president Adrian Ionel tells The Reg that VMware had fallen short on Paypal's needs for automation – too many manual processes – while FUEL uses Mirantis deployment scripts plus add ons to remove humans from the picture.

“The mission of the project is to drastically accelerate cycle time at PayPal,” Ionel told us. “The time from when a developer is ready to move an application or feature into production until the feature is live on the PayPal site. They want to compress this to 50 minutes - it’s much, much longer than that today.

“It’s not cloud at scale so that there’s humans involved – manual processes are involved in the provisioning of resources,” Ionel said. “With OpenStack, and the solution we have crated for PayPal, the manual steps will be fully automated.”

With FUEL, Paypal got a customized OpenStack package that meant it didn’t have to download, integrate and customize the bits itself.

FUEL can install different configurations – Ionel reckons you can go from a single controller node to full-on software-defined networking - and will deploy all the necessary OpenStack components and the operating system as long as it’s Ubuntu and Red Hat Linux. Mirantis, a 360-person operation comprised mostly of engineers, charges for support and updates on FUEL.

In a statement attributed to Paypal’s senior director of platform engineering and operations Saran Mandair, Paypal said tha FUEL "has dramatically accelerated our OpenStack deployment with robust, production-grade architecture while giving us the flexibility to tailor OpenStack to our needs."

Paypal is under growing competitive pressure and it’s been decided the company must move faster on the delivery of new apps and services, with apps deployed to a greater variety of end points from a common cloud back end.

As the payment arm and a subsidiary of eBay, Paypal is a web giant with history but the company is trying to diversify for growth. The two biggest areas seem to be retail point of sale, signing up bricks-and-mortar retailers in the US to take payment via its online network, and mobile.

Simultaneously, though, Paypal is feeling competition from new, smaller entrants in these areas who are also trying to take existing payments from PayPal - companies using Amazon Web Services as their infrastructure with a much higher pace of development. To name just two in mobile transactions, Paypal has found itself up against Square from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and Braintree.

Both are on iPhone and Andoid. Square has buy-in from payment gateways Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express while Braintree has a growing list of developer and consumer organizations taking its payments that includes Github, OpenTable, Twillo and Hailo. ®

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