portlandOpenStack has come a long way since the project was first unveiled at OSCon back in 2010. This week, almost 3,000 people gathered in Portland, Oregon, to continue the job of defining, debating, developing, and delivering the code upon which the OpenStack community depends. Alongside the developers, though, there were some early signs of tangible adoption.

During Monday’s Analyst Day, and in sessions throughout the conference, we began to see evidence of fledgling steps being taken beyond the early adopters on the bleeding edge. As Hewlett Packard’s Florian Otel remarked in his session, “it’s called the bleeding edge for a reason.” Some people want to be there. Some people need to be there. The majority of adopters, however, simply want robust, credible, dependable, and wide-ranging solutions that work. After a period in which OpenStack’s hype, perhaps, outpaced its reality, might we finally be seeing some credible proof points beginning to emerge?

The fledgling OpenStack Foundation clearly recognises its own need to move beyond an introspective community of tech enthusiasts playing with an interesting new toy. The video (embedded below) which loudly greeted the audience for Tuesday’s opening keynote was not subtle. If OpenStack is to succeed, the e.n.t.e.r.p.r.i.s.e is where it must go.

Announcements and briefings during the event definitely lacked the wow factor, but that is not unexpected at this stage in the project’s evolution… and may even have been intentional. The message was one of steady progress (a 26% increase in patches to the code since Q4 of last year), broadening community (a 27% growth in participating companies), and growing interest (a doubling in website traffic).  Beyond some lighthouse deployments at Best Buy, Bloomberg, Comcast, the National Security Agency and the like, it was harder to assess the extent to which OpenStack code is actually being used. Josh McKenty of Piston suggested that there were around 400 production deployments of OpenStack, plus 20 times that number of pilots. Amazon, again and again, was the competitor to beat, which may be a mistake. As Cloudability‘s Mat Ellis reminded me, this really isn’t a zero sum game. OpenStack doesn’t have to take users away from Amazon to win. There is a massive opportunity in greenfield deployments, and in helping customers to migrate from more traditional on-premise IT facilities. OpenStack may be better served by looking ahead, rather than always benchmarking itself against the Seattle behemoth. Yes, they compete to a degree. But there’s still plenty of room for both.

More worryingly, there was clear hubris with respect to OpenStack’s more obvious competitors; VMware, Eucalyptus and Apache’s CloudStack. VMware, I was told far too often, “cannot deliver a viable solution.” Eucalyptus was “dead in the water,” and CloudStack “irrelevant.” More positive — or realistic! — assessments appeared disconcertingly thin on the ground.

Amongst the case studies, perhaps the strongest was the one we’re not allowed to talk about. I hope that the OpenStack Foundation realises what a powerful story it is, and that they’re doing all they can to get the company concerned to permit its story to be told.

So, if the sessions and attendees in Portland are any measure, OpenStack is doing fine. It’s at a tricky stage in its evolution, though, as it moves from rapid development and developer evangelism toward dependable delivery and enterprise adoption. The first evidence of that shift is there to be seen. By the next OpenStack Summit (in Hong Kong), I’d hope — and expect — to see quite a bit more.

Disclosure: the OpenStack Foundation paid my travel and expenses to attend this event in Portland, Oregon.