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Mirantis Brings an Open Source Cloud to Enterprise IT Specialists

As most IT specialists are only well aware, the enterprise IT world is changing at a pace that is almost unprecedented. From security, to mobile to BYOD, IT managers are facing a plethora of new challenges that were not even on the roadmaps of many CIO's even five years ago. Of all the changes occurring in the enterprise, a very good case could be made that the rapid and widespread adoption of Cloud computing is the biggest change of all. In that regard, we are pleased to introduce Mirantis, which is a leading developer of Cloud solutions based on the open source platform OpenStack. Joining us today is Mirantis' VP of Marketing David Fishman.

IT Specialist: David, welcome. To start with, can you provide some brief background on Mirantis such as what year you were started, who are Mirantis' founders and what was the inspiration for starting Mirantis?

David: Mirantis got its start more than a decade ago operating offshore product design centers for algorithmically intensive software development. About 3 years ago, one of the co-founders, Boris Renski, spotted the emerging trend towards cloud, and foresaw an opportunity to match the company’s deep software engineering expertise with the just-then-introduced OpenStack open-source cloud operating system. Open source infrastructure software provided a particularly strong application for the company’s resident deep engineering skills. Renski persuaded the co-founders, now-chairman Alex Freedland and CEO Adrian Ionel, to roll the dice. We joined the nascent OpenStack foundation, and got started building OpenStack clouds right from the very first release.

IT Specialist: As I understand, Mirantis is the largest Cloud computing company based on OpenStack. Could you explain in more detail what OpenStack is, how it developed, and why would an enterprise IT Professional or other customer want to choose an OpenStack Cloud over a non-Openstack Cloud - for example specifically compared to Amazon Web Services?

David: We’re the largest dedicated, independent supplier of OpenStack technology and solutions, with over 50 customers in production. We’ve built OpenStack clouds for companies as diverse as Cisco Webex, Paypal, Huawei, Dell, AT&T, HP, Intel, NASA, Comcast, Cloudera, Ericsson, Sprint and many more.

OpenStack was pioneered by RackSpace and NASA, when they set out to build a uniform set of service-based interfaces that would manage and control key compute resources in the cloud – namely: processing, storage, networking and authentication, with integrated management.

Amazon Web Services set out to do the same thing, with one really big catch. As a single company in control of implementation, they’ve pioneered great work at scale that’s legitimized the cloud model and empowered developers as equal partners in infrastructure and distributed apps. They also succeeded in quickening some of the pulse at Vmware, arguably the other essential predecessor to OpenStack.

IT Specialist: What is so important in your view about open source technology in general, and OpenStack in particular?

David: Focusing on OpenStack, the most compelling difference with either of these predecessors is that OpenStack set out to do it in open source. The reason I say so is this: code transparency in the increasingly complex compute world isn’t a convenience, it’s a must-have. There’s just no other practical way to bring the myriad use cases required by the endless variety application workloads, nor is there any more practical way to get technology innovators – commercial, government, and academic – to collaborate on robust, peer-reviewed, meritocracy-driven code. What’s more, if you have a use case no one has thought of yet, you can take the code and bend it to your will. You don’t have to wait for some vendor to account for your needs someday in their roadmap.

When you combine the code transparency with a uniform set of interfaces for allocating and controlling resources in the cloud, you get a very powerful, versatile, and very extensible platform. Spinning up virtual machines, allocating storage, deploying images, controlling network and security access, all come from a single set of common, well-publicized interfaces. Compatibility is policed by market players with an interest in making the technology interoperate. Unlike the standards of the past, those standards are not passive engineering exercises: they are working code that needs to march through a pretty rigorous set of regressions for every change, dozens of changes per day. (Of course, even the regression test gating framework, called Zuul, is also open source).

IT Specialist: Before the Cloud and OpenStack came along, how would enterprise IT specialists bring additional computing power and storage into their networks, and was it possible to even manage this remotely, or was that just a characteristic that came with the Cloud? How did the Cloud - and OpenStack - change the existing paradigm?

David: Before OpenStack (and Amazon, to be clear), spinning up machines and storage, networking and managing them remotely required a menagerie of specific, often incompatible interfaces from different companies. It led to tremendous waste, both in the amount of cycles required to manage the menagerie, as well as poor utilization. Vmware made a huge contribution, by enabling consolidation to improve utilization – more OS's, fewer machines.

But the most painful inefficiency was that change was slow and painful, and IT organizations built up huge backlogs of dated applications. Vmware’s consolidation efficiencies did little to address that. By the time developers and system administrators could agree on how to tune a box and its app, everyone was exhausted, and the last thing anyone wanted to do was change it. Who wants to re-install Oracle and build out its data storage any more often than is absolutely necessary?

The Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) model pioneered by Amazon, and open-sourced by OpenStack, changed all that. It enabled developers to control distributed infrastructure resources directly. Developers rapidly grasped the benefits of truly distributed applications, and built out tremendous innovations, at companies such as PayPal, Webex, Netflix, SalesForce and more. These scale-out applications change rapidly, and treat infrastructure as a fluid resource. Contrast this with the classic approach, where each server is a special, custom-crafted creature, like a pet. It becomes the application’s whole world, and admins give the server a name, stay up late nights when it becomes sick, trick it out with accessories. In the cloud, apps treat your servers like cattle: give ‘em numbers, and if they get sick, shoot ‘em and eat ‘em. One of the Directors of the OpenStack Foundation, Randy Bias, describes this as the 'pets-vs.cattle' analogy.

However, running on Amazon means you get none of the benefits of optimizing your infrastructure to your business needs – which means utilization, compliance, and not least, competitive advantage. The API set for EC2, and all the permutations of the EC2 platform, are controlled by Amazon. Need something that’s not on their road map? Too bad. Got internal systems – such as ACLs/directory, etc. – that you need to integrate with new distributed apps running in the cloud? Only if Amazon thought of that first. Need to tune your application down to the metal iteratively, with no clear way forward other than test and reconfigure? Not so much.

In a nutshell, working with Amazon is like paying rent on an apartment. Sure, it’s a convenient way to start, and you can call someone else to fix the faucet – unless you can and need to fix it yourself. You give up control. With OpenStack, you get full ownership and transparency from top to bottom, and you can change your cloud to your competitive advantage.

IT Specialist: When it comes to Open Source technologies, there is sometimes a tendency for vendors to find a way to layer their own proprietary technology into the solution - which of course can defeat purpose of an Open Source solution at all. May I ask if Mirantis brings any of your own proprietary technology into the picture?

David: That’s a great question. We work very hard to keep our technology and solutions vendor agnostic, because the flexibility you get with open source is exactly what customers come looking for. For example, our provisioning automation framework product called Fuel for OpenStack, which forms the foundation of our technology services and solutions, is available as open source, and is fully transparent to help avoid lock-in.

I should say that vendor agnostic is not the same as distro-agnostic or release-agnostic. While we support all major Linux vendors, it makes no sense to take any arbitrary open source components and ignore release stability or compatibility, particularly with respect to integration. So we carefully vet the distros and releases we support to ensure robust compatibility, without playing favorites or introducing lock-in. 

IT Specialist: Let's turn our attention to the OpenStack Foundation itself. When was the Foundation formed, and what role does Mirantis play in the Foundation? Would you be able to highlight who are some of the major vendors who are part of the OpenStack Foundation - I believe IBM recently came out in favor of OpenStack?

David: The OpenStack foundation was incubated by Rackspace, and formed with the introduction of the code from the original joint project with NASA. Mirantis joined the foundation right at the outset during incubation, as one of the original supporting companies.

The code was contributed to the OpenStack foundation, which incubated it and opened for business in the fall of 2012, with the support of a couple-hundred member companies.

There’s a 3-part governance structure: The Technical committee is comprised of 13 peer-elected leads who set the direction of the software development and code. The foundation Board of Directors of is made up of 24 members, including the 8 platinum sponsor companies, 8 of the 13 gold sponsor companies, and 8 individual members elected from at large among the users. The third leg of governance is the User Committee, which is made up of nearly 6,000 users worldwide. Mirantis is a Gold Sponsor and an elected member of the Board of Directors.

What’s noteworthy about the 200 companies who are members of the foundation is that they represent a pretty complete cross-section of everyone who has a stake in the future of cloud computing. IBM, whom you mentioned, is a Platinum Sponsor; as are the top 3 Linux distributors, Red Hat, Canonical, SUSE; plus Nebula, Rackspace, HP, and AT&T. Add corporate sponsorships from Cisco, Dell, Ericsson, Vmware, Juniper, Yahoo, adding up to about 200 supporting organizations  -- a pretty impressive collection of logos.

The logo collection isn’t what makes OpenStack work; rather, it’s the release and contribution model. OpenStack is not a single project like Linux; it’s a set of projects under a common framework. What’s more, the projects release together on a single, integrated timeline, every 6 months, avoiding a lot of the churn you seen in other open source communities. There’s a design summit every six months to hammer out the roadmap for the next release. The most recent complete release is called “Grizzly”; in the fall, we’ll see the “Havana” release come out.

The best way to gauge the health of the project is to look at who’s contributing and the activity level. Mirantis recently released a dashboard, called stackalytics.com, which shows who’s contributed what to which OpenStack project over a given timeline, both by individuals and companies. 

IT Specialist: OpenStack is not the only open source Cloud technology. Cloudstack and I believe Eucalyptus are the two main open source competitors to OpenStack. Could you compare OpenStack to Cloudstack and Eucalyptus, and what makes OpenStack stand out among these three? Do you think that the industry will eventually coalesce around one de-facto open source Cloud standard? 

David: It looks increasingly like the industry has coalesced around OpenStack. There’s a fair amount of discussion on this topic right now, because the metrics are immature (one company got credit for 200,000 lines of code when they search/replaced the name of a module). But there are some very, very strong indicators that OpenStack is running away with the leadership.

CloudStack has strong single-organization sponsorship behind it via Citrix, and was an early leader. The level of developer investment activity compared to OpenStack, as measured by commits and lines of code, has slipped over the last 12 months. Contributing CloudStack to The Apache Software Foundation helped breathe some life into the project.

Eucalyptus got a fair amount of attention early on, but they’ve lost momentum. Over the last 12 months, according to Ohloh, they have 55 named developers contributing to the project, vs. 979 in OpenStack.

One of the most interesting assessments of comparative cloud project health and activity is compiled by an employee of Eucalyptus, named Qy John, out of China. His graphs also show the scales have tipped to OpenStack.

From an informal commercial sense, I can tell you that we almost never hear about Eucalyptus as a competing alternative in business opportunities, and about CloudStack, only occasionally.

IT Specialist: Mirantis has three main types of customers as I understand. These are IaaS service providers; SaaS vendors; and enterprises. Can you highlight what type of services Mirantis provides to each of these three segments of the market? Also, I believe you just recently released a product called "Fuel" - can you provide an overview of what this is?

David: With service providers – who basically run the range from telcos to hosting companies – the primary driver for OpenStack is building differentiated public cloud services. Our engagements there are about helping to build out unique IaaS cloud offerings, as well as integrating with existing OSS and BSS types of systems that the service providers have in practices. Essentially, these companies want to compete with Amazon, and they’re looking to Mirantis and OpenStack to help them do it. AT&T is probably the best example.

The SaaS companies we talk to are really interesting, because they often started their cloud offerings before anyone knew what IaaS really was. They built out a variety of home-grown cloud infrastructure, but it got fragmented because most SaaS organizations were created by building distributed infrastructures driven by application developers. While that’s a good goal in theory, in practice what happened is that developers of different application modules picked their own virtualization infrastructures. So companies like Cisco Webex and PayPal turned to OpenStack (and Mirantis) to rationalize their infrastructures around a common standard. We underwrote a report by GigaOM to examine how they’ve benefited by this kind of streamlining.

In the enterprise, what we’ve seen is companies who see the benefits of rapid change facilitated by the SaaS model waking up to realize that the other players in their market are moving faster, and they need a way to do so. So they take a page from the SaaS players, and look to OpenStack to cut the costs and increase the speed with which they can introduce changes to their applications.

Fuel is open-source software we put together to automate the process of standing up an OpenStack cloud. As you might imagine, the networks, storage, servers, security and organization of OpenStack cloud components require a lot of carefully coordinated configuration between them. Since we’ve built dozens of production OpenStack clouds, we captured that experience in Fuel to make available as a product. Fuel’s goal is simple: to make it faster, easier, and less costly to set up an OpenStack cloud. We provide both CLI-based and GUI-based options, which guide you through the steps you need to get your cloud configured correctly. Unlike some of the other installer utilities, Fuel also builds in a library of proven deployment configurations – for example, configuring the underlying services for high-availability, which is not native to OpenStack by default.

IT Specialist: Looking more specifically at the enterprise, can you provide an overview of how enterprise IT specialists - who comprise a large part of our audience - can benefit from using your solution? Do you tend to focus on building private Clouds for enterprise customers?

David: Our business is still evenly mixed between the 3 classes of customers I just talked about, but the largest incidence of new inquiries is coming from enterprise organizations, and increasingly, we’re seeing the shift to OpenStack private cloud accelerate.

For an enterprise IT Pro, the first question to ask is, what has my infrastructure done lately to speed up the introduction of new applications and features to make my company more competitive? The curse of IT, as has been well documented elsewhere, is that 2/3 of the budget goes to maintaining old systems and applications. That’s a disaster in any technology-driven business – and increasingly, that’s just about any business where information matters. I think a lot of enterprise IT folks are risk-averse, having been burned in the past by shifts in business priorities. But this would be fighting the last war, never a recipe for success. I’ve written about this in WIRED, for example.

The good news for IT Pros is that if they can handle Linux, they can handle OpenStack. We recommend that you take a run at it with DevStack, a lightweight sandbox implementation made up of documented shell scripts to build complete OpenStack development environments. A more complete way to give it a run is using Fuel.

I’d say the most important step for any IT pro is take a good hard look at whether developers in their organization are running on Amazon EC2. The old school response would be to try to shut them down, which I think is a big mistake. Rather, it’s a matter of understanding how to enable developers to create and control their infrastructure in a way that’s both agile and reliable. OpenStack is set up to do both.

The beauty of open source and OpenStack is that you can try it now. I’ve talked to literally dozens of customers who call us after standing it up on one or 5 servers at home, who then “get it” and want some guidance on how to get started.

IT Specialist: How has your traction been in the in the market to date, and are there any examples of partners or customers that you could share with us? 

David: So far, so good. We’ve seen a tremendous surge of interest in OpenStack, across sectors. A couple of examples of our customers: Cisco Webex turned to us to consolidate their fragmented infrastructure onto OpenStack. They talked about it at the Fall 2012 OpenStack design summit; you can see that video here, and listen to a webcast we put together featuring Webex and GigaOm here.

PayPal is also a big customer: they’re aggressively retooling their cloud to accelerate the rate of change in their apps. They needed agility without sacrificing availability. That balance between endless uptime and rapid time to introduction of new features is essential for any company that needs competitive advantage. One of the things that PayPal did to compress the time to deploy new features from months to hours is to carefully study how many tickets a developer had to file to get his/her new feature into production. The result is that they got the time down to minutes-to-hours. 

IT Specialist: How much capital has Mirantis raised to date, and who are your core group of investors?  I believe you just recently closed a $10 million round?

David: In 2013, after over ten years of cash-flow-positive operations, we took on $20M in investment from Intel, Red Hat, West Summit Ventures, Dell, Ericsson and SAP Ventures to accelerate growth.

IT Specialist: Finally, for customers who may be interested in working with Mirantis and/or want to do a trial within their organization, what is the best way to interface with you?

David: First, get smart about OpenStack. You’ll ask us better questions and we’ll be better able to help you. The first thing you really must do is check out the OpenStack site at openstack.org. Pick a project that’s of interest to you, and drill down. Or watch the videos from the recent OpenStack summit.

Then, go to www.mirantis.com and read up on Mirantis and OpenStack. Check out our blog, which is generally more technical than not, including some good tutorials. And download Fuel, including the VirtualBox kit, to get started and see what it takes to get going. If you’re ready to get serious, sign up for one of our training courses, or drop us a line via the website.

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How is Open Source Cloud Standard Performing in the Market vs. AWS and Others?http://www.itspecialist.com/Blogs/TabId/207/PostId/37/how-is-open-source-cloud-standard-performing-in-the-market-vs-aws-and-others.aspx

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