OpenStack appliances from a software company? You bet!

For me, today’s launch of Mirantis Unlocked Appliances has been part of an evolutionary (and at times revolutionary) journey in IT. It starts way back at Sun Microsystems with the first stirrings of Converged Infrastructure in my career, and continues through different approaches that solved the problems of their times up to today.

Before joining Mirantis, I was part of bringing Sun Cluster 3.0 (a.k.a. “Full Moon”) to market.  We didn’t think of it as Converged Infrastructure at the time, but aside from not being assembled in the factory (and the fact that it consisted of multiple machines), it had many of the same characteristics — even back in 2000. It was a single cluster of machines consisting of all-Sun hardware, Sun software and support, with mandatory services to ensure a highly available Enterprise Application on dedicated infrastructure. Later, popularity grew around Sun N1, a different direction presenting disaggregated systems as one; but decidedly this was not yet an integrated solution.

Later on, I was fortunate enough to be part of a great team at NetApp, working in collaboration with Cisco and VMware. Together with Cisco, FlexPod was delivered just as Converged Infrastructure was becoming all the rage. That, too, was an innovation; we intentionally targeted flexibility as a key point of differentiation against the very rigid (at the time) Vblocks from VCE — so much that we even put “Flex” in the name.  

We were getting closer; at the time, these initial Converged Infrastructure offerings were moving from the dedicated infrastructures of earlier architectures, to that of shared infrastructures running multiple Enterprise Applications in virtualized environments. At the same time, early private cloud solutions (or at times hybrid cloud solutions) also started to emerge on this first generation of Converged Infrastructure.

Cloud Native Apps and Mirantis OpenStack Unlocked

As the industry evolved, an opportunity at Mirantis presented itself to bring together the promise of cloud, the best of Converged Infrastructure, and the choice and economics of OpenStack.  Fast forward to today and we are talking about a new kind of application — cloud native applications, microservices and containers running on disaggregated systems.  The Mirantis Unlocked Appliance for Cloud Native Apps is a new generation of converged infrastructure architected to provide a turnkey solution for DevOps and/or production IT deployments of these new applications.  It is certainly an exciting time in IT as these technologies emerge and are increasingly adopted.

The first Unlocked Appliance is the start of a growing portfolio of choices aimed at reducing the complexity of OpenStack, reducing the time-to-value of OpenStack-based clouds, and reducing risk in deployments.  How does a software company achieve this for customers?  By working together with leading technology partners as we pre-validate appliances, taking the guesswork out of deployment.  As the only pure play provider in the OpenStack space, Mirantis is in a unique position to partner with anyone above or below OpenStack without any competitive agenda getting in the way.  By working together with Certified Rack Partners, such as Redapt, appliances are pre-integrated before delivery and certified after installation, taking the risk out of deployment.

What about Nebula?

But hasn’t the OpenStack industry seen appliances before? Although I run the risk of being a “Monday morning quarterback,” I think it would be helpful to share some differences between Nebula, the appliance vendor that closed its doors earlier this year, and Mirantis Unlocked Appliances. The three I’ll focus on are: 1) timing, 2) our OpenStack distribution and professional services, and 3) our commitment to upstream code contributions.

From a timing perspective, others were attempting to bring OpenStack appliances into an immature, early adopter OpenStack market. At the time, these early adopters had the interest and the skills to DIY (with an aversion to appliance-like consumption models). The market maturity gap was even pointed out in Nebula’s departure posting. Mirantis is bringing appliances to a more mature OpenStack market, and basing them off of use cases we see again and again in customer engagements.

Another difference: We believe it is fundamentally important to provide a spectrum of choice in consumption models. Mirantis first built its business around OpenStack professional services to help customers design and customize their cloud deployments. From these engagements, we built an OpenStack distribution as a software offering to run on any infrastructure. We now offer OpenStack appliances for easy consumption via turnkey rack-based solutions — in addition to our other two offerings.  As OpenStack increasingly goes mainstream into the enterprise, the desire and willingness to have an in-house OpenStack engineering organization decreases, while the desire for turnkey solutions increases, just like in the broader IT market. However, offering the spectrum of choice is important. Without it, we would be limiting ourselves to appliances, vastly narrowing our market applicability.

Lastly, Mirantis operates under a philosophy of contributing our code upstream into OpenStack. We are a top 3 contributor to OpenStack. The features we add to appliances go upstream into OpenStack and then downstream into our Mirantis OpenStack distribution. We understand that our value is in making OpenStack simple, with faster time-to-value and lower risk, not making a unique product surrounding OpenStack. In contrast, others originated their concepts based on a closed system of OpenStack with specific hardware, plus modifications to OpenStack and other associated features delivered around or on top of OpenStack.  Later, when they separated the hardware from the software to offer customers choice, they found it difficult to iterate on their software while OpenStack itself was rapidly changing.

Unlocking the OpenStack ecosystem with Turnkey Appliances

With these foundations in place, we believe the time is now to build on what has come before and launch a turnkey OpenStack appliance. Our goal is to simplify OpenStack and enable successful deployments, while still giving customers choice and flexibility.

Looking forward, many of the early concepts we learned in Converged Infrastructure at large will be coming full circle into what can be delivered with OpenStack appliances. “Ironic” will deliver bare metal capabilities within OpenStack and enable the orchestration of VMs, containers, and bare metal deployments, combined within the same infrastructure.  OpenStack will continue to add and improve upon enterprise features, which will enable the running of enterprise applications within an OpenStack infrastructure, bringing together traditional applications with cloud native applications.  It is exciting to continue down this path to both broaden and simplify IT through the concept of converged appliances. This way, enterprises can focus on what really matters most: moving the business forward through new applications and services.

To learn more, join me and Mark Williams of Redapt on July 30 for a webcast. In All About Making OpenStack Easy — Mirantis Unlocked Appliances, we’ll discuss the role of turnkey appliances in the OpenStack market and ecosystem, consumption models, use

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