Self styled pure play OpenStack provider Mirantis has launched Mirantis Unlocked Appliances in a blog by Jim Sangster
Sr. Director of Solutions Marketing.
The goal is to take advantage of the booming converged infrastructure appliance market. In the press release, Alex Freedland, Mirantis president and co-founder says: “About 20 percent of infrastructure is consumed through the appliance form factor because it is easy to set up and operate.”
For vendors such as SAP converged appliances from the likes of Huawei and Lenovo have been racking up industry benchmark records over the last few months. SAP is not the only software company to see the benefit in appliances.
VMware has been taking advantage of this market with a large ecosystem of hardware partners such as VCE and Nutanix. Last year it announced the EVO:RAIL hyper-converged infrastructure appliance delivered by certified partners and the latest figures from VMware show that it has been very successful.
Why has Mirantis gone down the appliance route?
Looking at the success of other vendors it should come as no surprise that Mirantis should want to take advantage of the converged infrastructure market. It has several benefits for both Mirantis and its customers:
- It ships as an out-of-the-box cloud solution
- There are no driver conflicts
- The underlying architecture means that hardware vendors can quickly certify their platforms
The first partner to get behind the Mirantis Unlocked Appliance banner is Redapt. They have worked with Mirantis to create the Mirantis Unlocked Appliance for Cloud Native Applications. The solution consists of a single rack of servers, storage and switches using hardware from Juniper and Dell.
According to Josh Lindenbaum, Vice President of Business & Corporate Development, Redapt: “The architecture Redapt designed with Mirantis, with Mirantis OpenStack at the core, solves for the complexity commonly associated with OpenStack. Redapt will work closely with customers to assemble, deliver and install Mirantis Unlocked Appliances that will arrive in the data center ready to plug and play.”
The details in the press release say that the appliance will come in a variety of configurations. These range from “six compute nodes and 12 TBs of usable storage, to a full rack comprised of 24 compute nodes and 24 TBs of usable storage, and a maximum of two racks sustaining over 1500 virtual machines and 48 TBs of usable storage…. Mirantis OpenStack 6.1 provides the infrastructure foundation.”
Who is this aimed at?
Mirantis is aiming this at both the corporate and the service provider markets. For the corporate buyer the message is simplicity. Unpack, plug in power and network and the appliance is preconfigured and ready to run. Given the paucity of skills and complexity of getting cloud running, this is a very attractive.
For the service provider the message is much the same. However, this is also a market that has invested heavily in terms of hardware and often enjoys significant discounts from larger suppliers. It is also an environment where the technical skills to deploy cloud services are good enough to just download, deploy, configure and run.
The challenge for Mirantis will be in persuading both groups of customers that the extra spend on a pre-configured appliance is about more than just cost saving. For example, how easy will it be to migrate existing Mirantis OpenStack deployments or even deployments from other vendors.
We spoke to Boris Renski, co-founder and CMO, Mirantis told us that “customers can move things between different Mirantis OpenStack implementations easily. The key is the consistency in the API layer that makes it possible for this to happen. What customers will need to think about is that performance will be affected by the underlying hardware such as spinning disk being slower than SSD.”
Renski was just as bullish about customers bringing in workloads from other OpenStack vendors providing that best practice has been followed. In particular, the use of loose coupling between the compute, network and storage layers. For service providers who are often working with heterogeneous environments, this is probably a given.
In the enterprise market, however, this is not something that can be relied upon. Many mid-sized enterprises have relied on outside IT suppliers and contractors to connect their systems together. The reality is that many have a mix of loosely and tightly coupled systems which means that they will need to work closely with the Mirantis partners.
Do appliances mean Mirantis is not longer a pure play software vendor?
Renski emphatically denied that moving into the appliance market threatened the Mirantis pure play position. “We are a software company and we are working with partners to deliver the appliances.”
Those who’ve been around the hardware appliance will know that it is never as simple as just dropping the software onto the hardware and hey presto, it runs. There are drivers to deploy and maintain and all of the partners will be on different hardware and patch schedules. When asked about responsibility for developing and certifying drivers Renski said:
“There are multiple types of drivers. There are OS level drivers for the physical elements in the server. Then there are OpenStack level drivers to interface with switches and storage appliances.
“OS level drivers are taken care of by the OS vendor. We are agnostic with the underlying OS – Ubuntu, RHEL and CentOS. They are responsible for the underlying drivers. OpenStack level drivers are typically down to the vendor.
“Prior to the launch we have announced the unlocked partner programme. This is about certifying the drivers from the vendors and that they will work with Mirantis OpenStack. We have certified a limited number of vendors, there is only so much bandwidth available for this. So far 50 infrastructure vendors are certified in the unlocked partner portfolio.”
We also asked Renski about how Mirantis would deal with the complexity of testing all the various hardware configurations and in particular manage the challenge of out-of-band patching.
Renski replied: “There are a number of layers to make sure the customer gets the working solution. We certify and keep certified with a limited subset of infrastructure partners.
“The appliances are put together by System Integrator partners. We create a reference architecture for how these should be put together leveraging the hardware from the partners. They get an architecture on how to create the appliance. Once this is done and before it is shipped, it has to pass a series of QA and stress tests using a tool called Fuel Pump. This was designed specifically to test the appliance before it goes to site.
“Once the appliance is on the customer site it is using Mirantis OpenStack which uses Fuel as the lifecycle manager. Fuel is responsible for the patching of the OpenStack and driver versions and maintains a list of what has been done.
“While vendors push patches at every component level the vast majority of patches don’t affect the OpenStack layer. They interface at the OpenStack API level so unless the patch impacts the API and changes the way calls are made, the appliance behaviour remains unaffected. If that is not the case it is down to the vendor to make sure that all of their components are re-certified.
“Going the appliance route minimises the route of the problem coming back to us. No way to go around the hardware. We need to be on hardware. When a partner goes to a customer it could be that they have gone the non-appliance route. This means that is it down to us and the partner to solve problems that we had no chance to validate beforehand. The appliance is different because it has been validated and we have significantly reduced the risk.”
This seems like a clever move by Mirantis but they will need to manage the partner ecosystem carefully and be aware of patching abnormalities. There is also a need to ensure better training of their partners, especially the SI’s who are building and deploying the appliances.
While Renski believes that the existing best practices around things such as loose coupling are something that everyone in OpenStack understands, the reality is that they don’t. Customers will want to see a training and certification process for the partners in order to be comfortable that the appliance market is not just cost effective but stable.