As the digital universe races full-steam ahead into the cloud, cloud-related technologies represent a fertile niche in which both aspiring and practicing IT professionals would do well to invest. Not much appears hotter at present than OpenStack. This free, open source platform for cloud computing is widely and often used for infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) deployments. OpenStack consists of over half a dozen interrelated elements to control resource pools for networking, storage and processing in a data center. OpenStack may be managed in a variety of ways, including through a web-based dashboard, command-line tools or even a RESTful API.
Origins and applications for OpenStack
OpenStack started out as a joint project between Rackspace Hosting and NASA. As of 2017, it falls under the aegis of the OpenStack Foundation, a nonprofit established late in 2012 to promote OpenStack software and the sizable community that surrounds it. Since its inception, thousands of individuals and more than 740 companies and organizations have associated themselves with OpenStack at various levels of membership (Platinum, Gold, Infrastructure Donors, Corporate Sponsors and Supporting Organizations). Member organizations include nearly all well-known names in high tech, as a quick visit to its Companies page will attest.
Today, OpenStack plays an interesting role in the world of computing. It is involved in many, if not most, of the public cloud offerings commercially available now. It is also widely used in private data centers, where companies and organizations of scale often use OpenStack to support internal, private cloud operations. Currently, most of the major job search sites (Indeed, Simply Hired, LinkedIn and so forth) list thousands of open positions that mention or require OpenStack expertise among their qualifications.
The Certified OpenStack Administrator
The OpenStack Foundation is keenly aware of the interest in its technology and the demand for qualified professionals who can get involved in developing for the OpenStack environment, and in setting up and deploying cloud-based infrastructures based on OpenStack. The foundation launched its first professional certification at the OpenStack Summit in Tokyo, Japan, in October 2015, to help meet the need for IT professionals qualified to design, set up, deploy and manage OpenStack-based environments.
The certification is named the Certified OpenStack Administrator (COA), and it seeks to validate the skills and knowledge of an IT professional with at least six months' experience working with OpenStack, who is able to provide day-to-day operation and management of an OpenStack cloud. Training is not required to earn the COA but is highly recommended. A single exam is available online, proctored by Kryterion, for $300. It lasts 150 minutes (2.5 hours) and is performance-based; candidates must perform tasks or solve problems using the command-line interface and the (web-based) Horizon dashboard.
Finding free OpenStack training: Tricky but doable
Since the exam went public on April 25, 2016, uptake has been tremendous. The OpenStack Foundation operates an active and comprehensive training marketplace that currently features a variety of free and for-a-fee training offerings from nearly two dozen vendors.
In looking over those and other offerings for free OpenStack training, it's not hard to see a pattern where certain training programs offers a free introduction to OpenStack, supplemented by for-a-fee training that aims directly at preparing IT professionals to take and pass the COA exam. There are some interesting and notable exceptions to this trend (five of the 21 training partners listed in the marketplace offer one or more free OpenStack courses, all of which aim at beginner-level coverage, to use its nomenclature). I'll be sure to cover them as well.
Basic training materials from the OpenStack Foundation
The online help listings available from the OpenStack Foundation are all free and regularly updated to track the organization's once- or twice-yearly rhythm of issuing new releases. Here's a short and useful list of items, with links to related sources or resources.
- Online documentation: This provides manuals and other documentation for all current OpenStack components and infrastructure elements (Pike, as of this writing). Categories represented include release notes, user guides, install guides, and operations and administration guides.
- OpenStack Pike Administrator Guides: This is a collection of OpenStack admin guides for operators who've run the environment in production for six months or longer, to document best practices in OpenStack cloud operations.
- OpenStack Security Guide: This guide documents best practices gleaned from experienced cloud operators in hardening and securing their OpenStack deployments. It covers a wide variety of topics and all major OpenStack components.
- Getting Started: This gives pointers to various resources for trying out, learning about and deploying OpenStack, including how-to guides for various Linux distributions (Ubuntu, RHEL, CentOS, openSUSE and SUSE LES).
- OpenStack Wiki: This is a comprehensive set of online references and resources about OpenStack, including all of the information mentioned in this list, plus access to demos, questions and answers, mailing lists, contributor info, and community user groups, blogs and newsletters.
The OpenStack Foundation is itself a prodigious source of information about OpenStack, including a variety of training materials. Its most notable presence is on YouTube, where it operates the OpenStack Foundation channel. There are hundreds of items available here, including videos from its annual Summit conferences and a variety of training materials from academics, IT professionals, developers and other interested parties.
General resources on OpenStack always include training
I found some great information sources online for OpenStack topics, both of which include ample training pointers and coverage. One is the MOOC Search Engine, aka Moocse.com, which provides thousands of entries under the search strings "OpenStack" and "Certified OpenStack Administrator." There are some real gems available here, so work your way carefully through these search results.
Another great OpenStack resource is OpenSource.com, which is perhaps best known for its regular and frequent OpenStack tutorials, a regular blog, and pointers to guides and free training materials of all kinds. It takes a while to dig through the information on this site, but the time and effort is usually well repaid with lots of useful stuff.
Introduction is free, but the real thing will cost you
The following members of the OpenStack Training Marketplace offer free introductions or beginner-level training on OpenStack (two offer significantly more, and they get their own section immediately following this one):
- Red Hat offers a free online OpenStack Technical Overview. The company also offers numerous for-a-fee classes, including three OpenStack Administration classes aimed at COA coverage, which may be purchased by themselves or bundled with the COA exam.
- AWcloud offers a free OpenStack Technical Overview online. Other OpenStack courses in its catalog cover Administration, Administration & Operations, and an Enterprise OpenStack Bootcamp.
- Aptira offers a free video-based Introduction to OpenStack. At present, it only offers instructor-led classes in India and Australia, along with a full slate of for-a-fee COA training.
- ComponentSoft offers a free monthly OpenStack Intro course that also requires month-before signup.
- Cloud Sky proclaims availability of free OpenStack Cloud Training, but it does not provide particulars. Its training page requests that you call for information. (It does make its slide deck freely available, however.)
While these companies clearly want to entice those who sign up for free training to plunk down cold cash for certification training to follow, these offerings are still worth checking out (but only one or two introductions will probably be necessary for most IT pros).
Beyond the free introductions
Two OpenStack affiliates offer more than just free introductions. It's probably no accident that both aim to train huge cohorts of professionals at low or no cost. First, there's the Linux Academy, which charges $229 per year (more for quarterly or monthly payment plans) for a huge catalog of Linux-oriented courses that include comprehensive OpenStack offerings. These currently consist of the following:
- OpenStack Essentials: A sometimes more in-depth overview than the preceding offerings.
- OpenStack Magnum Containers: A primer on containers, plus a look at OpenStack's latest container technology.
- OpenStack Foundation's Certified OpenStack Administrator (COA): More than 13 hours of video to help candidates prep for the COA exam.
- OpenStack MCA100 – Associates Certification: Almost four days (30 hours) of coverage on OpenStack basics, Nova Compute, OpenStack Networking, Swift, Ceilometer and Heat modules.
- Deploy and Manage OpenStack on Ubuntu – Newton: Includes modules on OpenStack intro and architecture, Messaging Server, Identity Service (Keystone), Clients, Image Service (Glance), Compute Service (Nova), Networking Service (Neutron), dashboard (Horizon), block storage (Cinder), object storage (Swift), orchestration service (Heat), telemetry (Ceilometer), plus launching and managing OpenStack instances.
Other training companies, such as Pluralsight and Lynda, offer subscription plans too – at about the same price as the Linux Academy. Offerings from both organizations have increased since last year: Pluralsight now offers seven courses in OpenStack (up from one in 2016), and Lynda offers 29 cloud computing classes, of which at least half a dozen offer substantial OpenStack coverage.
A second affiliate is the Linux Foundation, which offers a completely free MOOC via edX entitled Introduction to Cloud Infrastructure Technologies. It's described in a March 2016 article from The VAR Guy, aka Christopher Tozzi. It covers cloud platforms that include Docker, CoreOS, Kubernetes and OpenStack, and also provides an overview of software-defined networking (SDN) and storage. It's probably the most useful item in this entire article and worth checking out for anyone curious enough about cloud technologies to want to get a solid footing in these subject matters.
One more thing …
There's also a free Learn IT Guide on OpenStack available online. This is a useful collection of information and materials, but it is dated. From the modules it covers (some of which have been superseded by newer ones in the OpenStack architecture), these materials date back to the first half of 2015. Nevertheless, they are worth perusing if you're looking for more details than might be found in a typical free OpenStack introduction, like those included earlier in this article. Be sure to check the links to other free e-books on OpenStack, including "A Brief Look at OpenStack," the "Cookbook" and "Simple Concepts."
Leave no stone unturned
As you put together your own list of OpenStack learning materials, you'll find plenty here and elsewhere that's both free and worthy of your precious time. Be sure to make use of the MOOC Search Engine, the regularly updated coverage at the OpenStack site itself (especially the blog) and OpenSource.com, and you'll be sure to zero in on the good stuff fast.