Managing Your Cloud from the Cloud

Building a private cloud was a high priority for a number of organizations in 2014. This priority carried over into 2015 because it is hard to execute. For many organizations, it has carried over again into 2016. Of course, the definition of a private cloud has changed in that time, too. Some organizations are happy simply to have consistent VMs deployed in response to a helpdesk ticket. Other organizations aspire to have the AWS in their own datacenter. One significant trend is the use of public cloud services to manage on-premises private clouds. The other trend is OpenStack in the enterprise, rather than only in academia and hyperscale where it started.

OpenStack is a platform for cloud computing with its distant origins in RackSpace and NASA. OpenStack is not a product so much as a kit of parts and options, which are all open source and free. Deploying OpenStack is a complex undertaking. A number of vendors are simplifying the process for paying customers. There are a few players that will help you build an on-premises OpenStack with a consulting engagement. I’m going to take a look at some options that make the OpenStack part easy by leveraging public cloud platforms.

Platform9 was the first option I heard of that used public cloud resources to manage on-premises resources. They will spin up an OpenStack infrastructure on AWS for you when you deploy into your site an agent that drives your local infrastructure. You are responsible for the platform on your site and Platform9 looks after the OpenStack in the cloud. This is a good solution for using excess capacity on your existing platform to deliver some OpenStack. They started with support for a vSphere cluster as your on-premises infrastructure and have added support for KVM on  premises. In the cloud, they spin up and manage a dedicated set of VMs running OpenStack for each customer. The strength is in reusing your existing platform. The weaknesses are needing to manage your on-premises platform and to access the OpenStack APIs over the Internet.

This month ZeroStack has launched an on-premises OpenStack hyperconverged product with cloud management. They sell a hyperconverged appliance that runs OpenStack on premises. It is a 2U enclosure with 4 nodes, just like a lot of other hyperconverged appliances. The appliance is delivered ready to run with OpenStack; just add a few site specific details and you have an OpenStack platform in a few minutes. This lets you use the OpenStack APIs within your on-premises network. It also keeps the resource requirements for the OpenStack cluster separate from your existing workloads. ZeroStack adds public cloud–based operations analytics and platform management to the on-premises OpenStack. I hope we will see the analytics become a closed loop control system, where the analytics are empowered to make changes to the platform. This is what VMTurbo offers in its operations management. As customers start accepting and trusting these automated operations systems, we should see the cost of managing a population of VMs reduce.

There is a wild card here: Microsoft’s Azure Stack. When Azure Stack becomes a product, customers will be able to configure their on-premises infrastructure as a zone of their Azure infrastructure. Everything will be managed from the Azure interface, but some workloads will be placed on-premises and some in the public cloud. For Microsoft-based organizations, this will be a big deal, offering a true hybrid cloud. The same services will be available on-premises as in the Azure public cloud. Right now Microsoft has released a Tech Preview of Azure Stack which only works with a single physical server. Before customers will use this in production Microsoft will need to make the whole product work with multiple physical servers and the networking and storage that they share. This is going to be a lot of work and I suspect that integration with these non-Microsoft products will be the stalling point. Only time will tell whether Microsoft can make a unified hybrid cloud a reality.

Managed OpenStack has many forms. Platform9 is one solution for using excess hypervisor capacity to form an OpenStack-based private cloud managed from the public cloud. ZeroStack uses their own hyperconverged platform to deliver your OpenStack on-premises while adding some public cloud–based analytics and operations. Some real disruption may occur when Microsoft has a working on-premises counterpart to the Azure public cloud.

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