Managed private cloud gives IT a cost-effective option

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Cost is a big factor when IT admins explore different options for cloud. In certain cases, a managed private cloud may be more cost-effective than public cloud.

Canonical, a distributor and contributor to Linux Ubuntu, helps organizations manage their cloud setups and uses a variety of proprietary technology to streamline management. Based on the company’s BootStack offering, Canonical’s managed cloud supports a variety of applications and use cases. A managed private cloud can help organizations operate in the “Goldilocks zone,” where they have the right amount of cloud resources for their needs, said Stephan Fabel, director of product at Canonical, based in London. 

Currently, 35% of enterprises are moving data to a private cloud, but hurdles such as hardware costs and initial provisioning can cause organizations to delay deployment, according to a June 2018 report by 451 Research. Here, Fabel talks about what makes a managed private cloud a more effective strategy for the long term.

What is different about BootStack? 

Stephan Fabel: BootStack is applicable to the entire reference architecture to our OpenStack offering. The use case will often dictate a loose handling of the details in terms of the reference architecture. So, you can say, for example, deploy a telco-grade cluster or a cluster for enterprise or a cluster for application development, and those are very different characteristics from another company.

Stephan Fabel

We support Swift [an API for data storage and scalability] and Chef [framework codes for deployments]. With some of the more locked-down distributions of OpenStack, we support multiple Cinder-volume stores. … We have the ability to do a Contrail application programming interface and even an open Contrail.

The reason why we can do a managed private cloud at the economics we portray them is that we have the operational efficiencies baked into our tooling. Metal as a service and Juju [an open source application modeling tool] provide that base layer on which OpenStack can run and manage.

One thing that is not entirely unique — but it is rare — is that BootStack actually stands for ‘build, operate and optionally transfer.’ Managed service providers generally want users to get on their platform and never leave. We basically say, ‘You know you want to get started with OpenStack, but you’re not sure you’re operationally ready. That’s fine; jump on BootStack for a year, and then build up your confidence or skill set. When you’re ready to take it on, go for it.’

We’ll transfer back the stack in your control and convert it from a managed service to a generic support contract.

What features contribute to a managed private cloud being more cost-effective than public cloud? 

Fabel: The value of public cloud is that you can get started with a snap of your finger, use your credit card and off you go. … However, down the road, you can end up in a situation where due to smart lock-in schemes, nonopen APIs’ interfaces and unique business features, you’re locked into this public cloud and paying a lot of money out of your Opex.

The challenge is it takes a lot more investment upfront to actually get started with a managed private cloud. Somebody still has to order hardware, it still constitutes a commitment, and someone still needs to install the hardware and run it for you. … But, for what it’s worth, we’ll send two engineers, and it’ll take two weeks and you’ll have a private cloud.

Is it common to be able to deploy a private cloud with just two engineers, or is that specific to Canonical?

I think we’ll see more adoption of managed services from the more advanced user base.
Stephan Fabeldirector of product at Canonical

Fabel: You’ll certainly find in this space a lot of players who will emphasize their expertise and the ability to do almost anything you want with OpenStack, in a similar amount of time. The question is, what kind of cloud is within that offering? If you go to a professional service-oriented company, they’ll try and sell you bodies to continually engage with as their way of staying with the contract, which racks up those tremendous costs.

The differentiating fact with Juju is, as opposed to other configuration tooling such as Puppet or Chef, it actually takes things further by not just installing packages and making sure the configuration is set; it is actually orchestrating the OpenStack installation.

So, for example, a classic problem with OpenStack is upgrading it. If you go to some of our competitors, their upgrades are going to be an extremely expensive professional services quote, because it’s so manual. What we did is basically encoded the smart in with what we call Charms that work in conjunction with Juju to manage that automatically.

How does automation help reduce the cost of managed private cloud? 

Fabel: We launched [Juju] five years ago, and it went through a lot of growing pains. Back then, everybody was set on configuration management, and they were appropriating configuration management technology to also do orchestration. … That’s great if you’re only deploying one thing. But, as OpenStack exhibits, it’s not quite that easy when you try and deploy something a little bit more complex.

[Now,] Juju basically says, ‘I will write out the configuration because I’m an agent and I understand the context.’ If you can automate tasks such as server installation and management, and you can code that logic, then you have to think less.

It does require more discipline on the Charms side and more knowledge on the operator in case something does go wrong. … For you to be able to debug this, you actually have to understand how to use it. And that’s a hurdle that people in the beginning sort of dismissed.

Will there always be a mix of public and private managed cloud?

Fabel: We’re seeing interest in power users of OpenStack who want to move onto new frontiers, such as Kubernetes, which seems to be it right now, and we’re ready to take [management] off their hands.

I think we’ll see more adoption of managed services from the more advanced user base and in the more off-the-shelf kind of market that want a 15-node or 20-node cloud. It’s not about the 2,000-node cloud as much anymore. I think there’s a whole market that’s just saying, ‘I have a 10-node cloud, and I can pay VMware or someone to run it for me, and I choose so because it’s economically more attractive.’ 

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