VMware has proved to be the only OpenStack vendor focused on making the deployment of OpenStack on top of VMware infrastructure simpler. VMware Integrated OpenStack (VIO) was introduced at VMworld 2014, though it winded up being a non-starter for most VMware environments because it required VMware vSphere Enterprise Plus licensing and VMware NSX.
The startup Platform9 is looking to fill the gap and provide an OpenStack option on VMware vSphere that's easy to deploy and manage.
Overview of Platform9
Platform9 spins up and manages all of the OpenStack management nodes in its infrastructure, and then customers install agents on hypervisors located in the customer's data center. Once the agents establish communication with the Platform9 Software as a Service (SaaS) OpenStack, enterprises have an OpenStack-managed infrastructure — without the deployment and management concerns, because Platform9 manages the maintenance and upgrade cycle of the OpenStack management layer. According to Platform9 CEO Sirish Raghuram, a customer can have their OpenStack environment running within minutes of signing up.
OpenStack on VMware infrastructure
Prior to its latest product offering for VMware environments, Platform9 has focused on providing SaaS-managed OpenStack for onsite KVM and Xen hypervisor environments. However, instead of installing agents on VMware hosts, Platform9 provides an appliance that communicates via the vCenter API to the vSphere cluster. Consider the appliance an OpenStack to VMware translator.
Several solutions leverage the vCenter management API. VMware's vRealize suite leverages the same connectivity to automate vSphere administration. Citrix's provisioning services for XenDesktop make API calls to vCenter to create, start up, shut down, or delete virtual desktop images.
By leveraging the vCenter API, Platform9 customers can use all of vSphere's features without considering the impact of the OpenStack architecture. VMotion, DRS, and HA all function as expected for OpenStack and non-OpenStack initiated workloads. The Platform9 appliance stays in constant contact with vCenter and tracks the status of each virtual machine.
The Platform9 appliance presents VMware resources as OpenStack resources; there are subtle and not so subtle differences between OpenStack resources and VMware resources. Server templates is an example of a subtle difference. VMware leverages the idea of a template to deploy standard virtual machines based on a standard image, whereas OpenStack uses the concept of an image. Deploying from a template vs. an image has nuanced differences. Platform9 helps to make these differences invisible to the developer consuming OpenStack.
Less subtle is networking. There's no direct parallel between vSphere networking and OpenStack networking. VMware VIO tackles networking by integrating VMware NSX with OpenStack. The VMware VIO integration with NSX exposes the full power and complexity of NSX.
An example VIO use case may have a customer provisioning network function virtualization (NFV) via the OpenStack API. The Platform9 network workaround is to make any network visible in vSphere available via the OpenStack API. While developers can't provision new networks or NFV appliances, they can consume any available network. According to Raghuram, customers have yet to ask for advanced networking provided by NSX.
Major barriers to using OpenStack are deploying and integrating with existing VMware deployments. VMware's VIO helps to solve these challenges for the most expensive vSphere licensing. Platform9 presents a unique solution for those unwilling or unable to invest in vSphere Enterprise Plus.
Does Platform9 entice you to test OpenStack atop your vSphere environment? I'd love to hear your feedback in the comments.
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Keith Townsend is a technology management consultant with more than 15 years of related experience designing, implementing, and managing data center technologies. His areas of expertise include virtualization, networking, and storage solutions for Fortune 500 organizations. He holds a BA in computing and a MS in information technology from DePaul University.